A Comment on Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

First I’ll start off by saying I have read the first hundred pages so far… so please, if you’ve read the book (which is a detective novel) do not post spoilers in the comments section! 🙂

As you frequent readers of this blog already know, if I’m going to read fiction it’s pretty likely to be a Pulitzer prize winning novel. (Sadly, this is really a comment on how infrequently I’m reading these days because I have not even gotten through the past 10 years worth of fiction winners yet.)

Also, you might imagine if I’m mentioning Michael Chabon and Pulitzer Prize… I’m mentioning the wrong title. His Pulitzer winning book was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It also just so happens that when the airport bookstore is out of pulitzer prize winning novels, and you’re staring down a 6 hour flight from one coast to another, you might decide to purchase an alternate title by an author in that “P” group. Well, you might not do that, but I did.

And now for an aside from my aside… how come nobody ever challenges me on why I’m sticking to Pulitzer prize winning novels and instead singing the praises of an amazing author who should have been nominated for a National Book Award, Pulitzer, or is just a genius with words? Come on peoples, tell me at least one of you has read a totally amazing novel this year where you were blown away by the story, the writing, the characters… something? (For the record, I’m very far behind on my contemporary literature reading. Even I know that reading a prize winning novel from a decade ago isn’t the cutting edge… but I’ve got to dig in somewhere.)

Okay, enough. Back to the topic at hand, Mr. Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

I’m in love with Chabon’s writing. Some of you out there, the writerly writer types, might hate his flowery, adjective filled long strung out sentences… but I whistle and moan in admiration with some of his descriptions.

Try this paragraph:

Litvak makes an impatient or petitioning gesture with his hand. He takes from his breast pocket a marbled black notepad and a fat fountain pen. He wears his beard neatly trimmed, as ever. A houndstooth blazer, tassled boat shoes, a display handkerchief, a scarf strung through his lapels. The man has not lost his sporting air. In the pleats of his throat is a shining scar, a whitish comma tinged with pink. As he writes in the pad with his big Waterman, Litvak’s breath comes through his great fleshy nose in patient gusts. The scratch of the nib is all that remains to him for a voice. He passes the pad to Landsman. His script is steady and clear.

Do I know you

Now, I don’t know about you, but how can you not swoon at phrases like “a scarf strung through his lapels” or “in the pleats of his throat” or even “the scratch of the nib is all that remains to him for a voice”?

This is one random paragraph, mind you. The book is a cornucopia of such phrases (okay, sorry, I can’t help myself…).

What’s especially interesting to me about this book is an interview Chabon did with the New York Times which is reprinted in the back. In it he says that he remade his writing style in order to take on a Chandler-esque detective novel because he shortened his sentences considerably to write this novel. And, oh yeah kids, he had written a 600 page manuscript as a first draft of this book, decided he didn’t like it and chucked the whole thing and re-wrote it from scratch.

I admire that about the guy.

Whether or not you decide to read this book is not the point of this particular post. For me, this post is about craft. Meticulous craft. And I’ve gotta hand it to Chabon in this novel, his loving care about his subject and his characters just oozes out of every page.

Did I mention I’m only 100 pages into this 411 page novel? Well, I am. As for the remaining 300 some-odd pages? I’m going to savor them, nice and slow.

P.S. We will return to your previously scheduled Hurrican Sandy installments in future posts.

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