Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hugo Winner 2008: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

Michael Chabon
Read early 2013, reviewed 6/1/2013
2 stars

What a tedious book!  I had not read Chabon before this.  But I was aware that he was quite a critical darling, and had won a Pulitzer.  I had high expectations for the book, and was utterly disappointed.  After reading, I came to the conclusion that the only reason this book won the Hugo was because fans thought they needed to jump on the Chabon bandwagon, that they wanted to have at least one Hugo winner also be a famous literary prize winner.

This is another noir genre book.  The basic premise is really interesting.  Israel is never formed after WWII, and Russia allocates a part of the panhandle, Sitka and its surrounding area, for the Jews as a temporary homeland.  There is a murder in the eve of the Jews losing their lease on Sitka, and a local police officer must investigate the seamy side of Sitka to find the murderer.  You would think this has the makings of a great alternative universe.  But it doesn’t.

What kills this book is the prose.  The prose is so overwrought, at the end of every paragraph, all I could imagine was Chabon at his computer, looking at the paragraph and saying to himself, “Wow, I’m such a good writer!”  or “I bet you never saw anybody ever described a scene like this before, eh, eh?”

Here’s my perception of Chabon’s formula for each paragraph.  A character begins a statement.  This is followed by some crazy non-sequitor prose.  The character finishes the statement. It made all the dialogue in the book very difficult to follow.  And the prose added nothing to the statement.  It only takes a few pages to get the mood and setting of the book.  But Chabon pounds this over your head with every paragraph he writes.

There was a lot of potential in the book, the universe, the characters, the plot.  But I felt derailed by the prose every step of the way.  I just couldn’t get interest in anything because I wasn’t allowed to sit with anything without being interrupted by the prose.

I created a Chabon-homage paragraph which I am quite proud of:

He nods his head and smiles, with teeth like peppermint chicklets chewed in twos, threes, or whole packs by young children trying to blow bubbles as if it were a piece of bazooka, gum which only could be obtained from boutique candy stores in quaint old-fashioned purveyors of discontinued candies, in mountain towns now dwarfed by casinos converted from renovated antique stores, which gamblers only visit to reminisce over long forgotten brandless penny candies, when leaving one parlour of despair believing the next parlour would be one of hope, and says, "My ex-wife," with sadness entering his grey cloudy eyes as he remembers their days of sex, constant and daily, in any room, at any time, on the stove, on the kitchen table, in the bathroom, in the closet, in the park among the forsythia bushes, in the bus station toilet, even on that couch in the station, "left town."

Two stars, because of the concept.  And I liked the main character and the murder victim.  No other reason.

No comments:

Post a Comment