Thank goodness we've moved beyond all that balderdash. Dropping pretense for pure enjoyment, summer reading should have all the liberating zing and lightness of being that vacation and 18 hours of sunlight can impart.
First up, Michael Chabon's magnificent The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Now available in trade paperback for those who might want to save a few bucks for cool refreshments, this book is so delightfully masterful that you might want to scare up a hardcover so it holds up to re-readings for years to come.
Chabon sports a pretty spectacular literary pedigree, starting off with the much ballyhooed Mysteries of Pittsburgh almost two decades ago, and including Wonder Boys, which was turned into a pretty good movie. Yet none of his earlier books truly prepared one for the full flourish of Kavalier & Clay.
The weave of his story and characters, carried through every sentence and every detail within every sentence, is nothing short of, well, amazing.
Each digression, each turning point, every cough and twitch is perfect. This work is so redolent with flavor that you would swear, if you draped a cotton napkin on top of the pages overnight, in the morning you could gather it up, hold it to your nose and breathe in the rich smells and tastes of his imagination.
Although it doesn't do it justice to attempt synopsis, I suppose I ought to tip to the story-line a bit instead of just gushing: New York City in the '40s. Two cousins, Sammy Clay and Joe Kavalier, embark on the adventure of a lifetime, thrilling both themselves and thousands of readers with their comic book heroics of the Escapist. Spider-Man has got nothing on this dynamic duo, nor their tale of triumph, and tragedy, and triumph again.
Talk: A Novel in Dialogue by Corey Mesler arrived a little earlier than expected and will also reward anyone who takes the time to track down a copy. Mesler is one of the good guys in the book business, so it's wonderful getting a chance to give light to another aspect of his talents. The entire book is written in conversation, yet within five pages, the reader's mind begins to fill in all the background info, and the story springs to life complete with all senses engaged.
The other remarkable aspect of this book is that you'll be amazed to read lines you would swear only lived in the private world of your thoughts. Livingston Press, publisher of the book, is not widely known, so you may have to special order it, but it will surely be worth the effort.
The Emperor of Ocean Park works on an equally large canvas as Kavalier, but describes a vastly different society, that is, the black upper class. Stephen Carter, in his first novel, succeeds virtually without peer as he brings into focus a slice of America never before captured in fiction.
I'm a card-carrying devotee of Kathy Y. Wilson's "Your Negro Tour Guide," beholden to both her candor and contrariness, and I'm telling you Emperor likewise shows us the many errs of our airs while dissecting for the reader a brand new world. There are many streams that flow together in the rivers of life in the US of A, and this one is a natural treasure.
Emperor could have just as easily been a polemic on race (as Carter proved his stuff in his non-fiction, which includes The Culture of Disbelief and Civility), but what sets this work apart is the skill with which he wraps all these perspectives into a fully-developed work of fiction. It's an entrancing glimpse into the hidden rooms of black America. Equally so, it's an exceptionally fine read.
Finally, for anyone who was swayed by last month's rave for Richard Russo's Empire Falls, just arrived is a collection of his short fiction entitled The Whore's Child and Other Stories. The folks at Knopf, being nobody's fool (pun intended), wisely hurried along this collection to follow up his Pulitzer Prize.