Posted by: Gregg | March 7, 2008

Gentlemen of the Road – Michael Chabon

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.

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Responses

  1. You may have something there. I adored Gentlemen of the Road (although I kind of wish he’d stuck with the original title, Jews With Swords), but I also love Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories.

  2. Oh, and he’s a bit of trivia: my dad went to high school with Fritz Leiber’s son, Justin (who also was an SF/fantasty writer, although not nearly as famous as his dad).

  3. Someone needs to write a novel entitled “Jews With Swords”. It needs to be done.

    My feeling is that Chabon’s got his Pulitzer, so he has a giant piece of Eff-You hardware to use on editors who would suggest and prune his work. I would have liked to have read this book with Chabon’s voice instead of him imitating someone else’s.

  4. I didn’t read this book as Pulitzer Prizewinner Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road, I read it as Fellow Genre-Geek Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road. Like writing and drawing comics with my best friend in 3rd grade, when we ripped off characters, storylines, and panel layouts shamelessly. I felt Chabon’s love of sword-slinging historical adventure, a love I share. “Original voice” isn’t necessarily a huge concern for me. Enthusiasm scores more points with me.

    Or maybe we’re both overthinking and over-rationalizing this. Maybe it’s really just that the book hooked me in a way that it didn’t hook you. I dunno.

  5. But… but… overthinking is like, my CALLING, dude!

    Seriously: yeah, it’s just one of those difference of opinion things that’s no big deal. I am glad you liked it.

  6. I thought of something else: just because you were moved by Schindler’s List or Close Encounters doesn’t mean you’ll dig Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know?

  7. Man, I’m totally the voice of dissent. I was supposed to read The Final Solution for my book club, but I hated it and quite after only a quarter of the book.

    • Caríssimo Tiago Pinto:"usarem a minha caixa de comentários para expôr as minhas supostas contradições é bem pior do que muita coisa que criticam no Be&tcca.nquof;aireditas mesmo nisto ? acreditas mesmo que o teu blogue e aquilo que fazem com ele e a sua caixa de comentários é pior do que aquilo que fazem no clube ?


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