Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

Here's an oddity; seemingly a book that shouldn't exist, something the author nearly admits in the afterword.  The subtitle on the cover reads, 'A Tale of Adventure' it's a very apt title but one that flies in the face of what I had taken as modern publishing PR protocol.  Usually when one such as Chabon publishes anything that isn't explicitly the most high and mighty 'literary fiction' we always see 'A Novel' as a subtitle on the cover, as if to ensure the reading elite that 'even though this work may have shades of genre writing; it's still really good.'  Sadder than the implied understanding that many publishers have with who they identity with as their target readership is the fact that many readers need such reassurance as 'A Novel' for fear of reading something genre that may be excellent or worse still, something genre that they enjoy. 

So yeah, Michael Chabon writing 'A Tale of Adventure;' that is exactly what Gentlemen of the Road is and yet it is also the same authoritative writing grip and command over the English language that Chabon exudes would make you think this book--specifically this book--would say 'A Novel.'  He can still bend the language over backward and get from it whatever he wants, but ironically the combination of an adventure tale and Chabon combined to hold the two components back from what I felt either could have been without the other.

Amram and Zelikman are many things: wanderers, warriors, con artist and Jews among many others.  They are the titular gentlemen of the road.  Their travels lead them to cross paths with a boy who is the last descendant of the throne to the kingdom of Khazaria.  Throughout the novel they oscillate between the ideas of robbing and killing Filaq, the would be ruler of Khazaria, and wholly ignoring his existence.  While we're given all the elements for an amazing adventure tale things remain rather modest concerning plot.  While part of the book is adventure blended into the story of 'Jews with Swords' the other part are the colorful descriptions and vibrant prose that only Chabon is capable of; all-in-all his strongest asset kinda got in the way of the story.

Things aren't slow, nor or they what I would deem measured or well-paced but Chabon's usual flair and attention to detail on top of a host of tenth-century vocabulary does add up to needing a small dose of patience to feel your way through the story.  The prose never goes so far as to draw attention to itself but nor does it always enhance or endear itself to the story being told.  The novel's story--sorry I meant "Tale of Adventure"--didn't have strong enough elements for the language used to fully benefit as Chabon's prose usually does.  Or perhaps this is just the opinion of one who has read many such "Tales of Adventure."  If you're one of those readers who would ordinarily never read "a Tale of Adventure" then you may find Gentlemen of the Road to be the greatest thing committed to paper, and you might even go so far as to seek out other such 'Novels.' 


Marion said...

I liked the afterward --"Jews With Swords!" -- almost as much as the book. I like your comments. I thought this was slight, but I enjoyed it.

Marion said...

Eeek. I meant "afterword."

Chad Hull said...

I couldn't agree more with your first comment (and the second one!). As to "Jews With Swords" being slight I agree but only in relation to his total output.

Even if what he writes isn't his best or the greatest thing ever he is all kinds of unique.