Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Myers on Chabon

Alex Stein, who does literary stuff, sends me a link to a blog about literary matters where the author has a lower opinion of Michael Chabon than I implied the other day here. Myers thinks Chabon is full if it, though he uses more polite language than that.

As with gushing oil wells, this also is a matter above my pay grade.


Anonymous said...

thanks for helping to strengthen my impression that Chabon is not "it" and that he is a writer of the hollow fancifying kind.

But book reviewers these days leave me in despair anyway, almost nobody dares to say that Stieg Larsson's books are appallingly bad (I read the first of the series in German) - it seems once something sells all these high-brows turn into mercenaries and if you come up with a wannabe intelligent gimmick they turn themselves into sales clerks

Here is Ruth Wisse's review of the Alaska-book at Commentary which convinced me at the time that Chabon was at best negligeable.



Alex Stein said...

It's not great. He wrote an interesting article earlier about Yiddish etc which contained more interesting ideas than the novel did. I think that his problem is that he's too consumed by the perceived injustice towards 'genre' fiction, and forgets that 'literary' fiction is doing quite well when it comes to 'page-turners'. Still, it was quite a fun combination of IB Singer and noir. Kavalier and Clay is meant to be excellent.

Anonymous said...

I dimly remember that Yiddish piece of his but nothing stuck in my mind contrary to what I learned from Commentary on IB Singer and "why Yiddish"
- (I guess you know German has profited a lot from Yiddish)

- I have to date read only a few pieces from the stuff from IB Singer himself Commentary has on offer but fell in love instantaneously with him - he is definitely one of "mine"


Lee Ratner said...

I have to respectfully disagree with Alex Stein. I generally like most of what Michael Chabon writes. I was disappointed with Gentleman of the Road, which I thought suffered from trying to be close the writing style found in pulp stories like Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. It was in a good concept but the writing-style killed it.

RK said...

The only thing I learned from that post was that D.G. Myers has some kind of strange hangup about Chabon.

I'm ambivalent about the article Alex mentions, which was a riff off of the Weinreichs' Yiddish-English phrasebook, and which, like many other pieces about Yiddish by secular authors who should know better, ignores or downplays the vibrancy of haredi Yiddish-speaking communities. The article was thoroughly discussed and criticized (mostly criticized) on the Yiddish mailing list Mendele; interested readers can find Chabon's on-list response here (second message). I'm told the response spurred him to write The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Like most other Yiddishists, I'm not a huge fan of Bashevis Singer. But I still want to take the opportunity to link to Cynthia Ozick's savage satire about the Yiddish literary world and its relationship to Singer: Envy, or Yiddish in America.

Mark Cohen said...


Chabon's piece reveals his weaknesses as a thinker and, more importantly, as a novelist. He seems oblivious to the sustaining power of the chosen people story. Saul Bellow understood, as a novelist should, that a story "testifies to the worth, the significance of an individual." The chosen people story does the same for the Jews. Chabon's real interest is in leveling the human playing field, asking all of us to admit that we are all the same -- culture, history, religion, and language notwithstanding -- dumb but lovable shmucks just trying to get along. This is what Bellow's Moses Herzog (yes, I'm a Bellow nut) condemned as "potato love." Cheap, filling, fattening and almost worthless. It was a weak-minded, sentimental, and immature essay.

Barry Meislin said...

Ah yes, the mysteries of Michael....

Anonymous said...

Potatoes are not worthless:-)))

in fact science tells us that if you add a bit of Quark even of the non-fat or low-fat kind you may thrive on that diet for a long time

(this in honour of my grandmother who could chose and boil potatoes to unsurpassable excellence)


AKUS said...

I found the "Alaska" book ("The Yiddish Policemen's Union") a difficult read, with an interesting idea and a rather poor ending, but "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" is, I think, brilliant on multiple levels, only one being the Jewish refugee level.

Nevertheless, the "Yiddish Policemens' Union" posits an interesting concept - other than Israel, what can the world do about these troublesome Jews? There is no other answer or place for them.

Anonymous said...

OT but don't miss this one - I got more than one good LOL out of it

Anonymous said...

there was recently a lengthy and well-told history of Zionism on our radio getting especially lively in describing what happened when Herzl was willing to give up on Jerusalem and settle for whereever because he found it more important to save Eastern Jews from persecution the exactly same Eastern Jews were adamant that it was to be Jerusalem or nothing.

Did Chabon's book honour by whatever allusions the memory of these heroes? (I haven't read it but the answer to that question seems vital to me to judge the book's merit)