Admission: I’m a huge Michael Chabon fan. His Pulitzer-prize winning Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is one of my top-ten desert island books, and one I endlessly push on unsuspecting patrons. His other novels, like the Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union are all wonderful and brilliant and worth your time.
That said, I didn’t much cotton to his latest, Gentlemen of the Road. The thing is that Chabon loves genre and has written several novels in different styles and forms – he wrote an homage of Sherlock Holmes in the novel The Final Solution. Last year’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union was a tale that owed much to noir pioneer Raymond Chandler. I didn’t like the first, but loved the second, probably because I’m a crazy huge Chandler freak. (Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, incidentally, is one of my other desert island books.)
Gentlemen of the Road is a historical adventure tale that takes place in a Jewish kingdom along the Silk Road in Central Asia around the 10th Century. Chabon here pays homage to fantasy author Fritz Leiber and his Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser fantasy stories: the problem here is that I’ve never read any of Fritz Leiber’s work, and I’m betting that the vast, vast majority of readers out there haven’t either. Chabon might be doing a fabulous job of imitating that style, but I’m not in on the joke. It’s like watching the World Series of Cricket – I might be watching world-class athletes at the top of their game, but without knowing the rules of the game and how to play, much of what I’m watching is completely lost on me. So what I’m left with is a overly mannered, baroque writing style and no reason whatsoever to care about the characters. I gave up about a third of the way through.