It had been too long since Michael Chabon, 49, one of his generation’s most gifted prose stylists, set his sights on contemporary America. Chabon’s most recent full-length novels had seen the author exploring the lives of comic book artists in the 1940s (Pulitzer Prize–winner “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”) and an alternative Jewish homeland in Alaska (2007’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”).
Shorter works such as “The Final Solution” and “Gentlemen of the Road” were delightful exercises in period genre fiction, while the film “John Carter,” released earlier this year, for which Chabon co-wrote the screenplay, allowed the author to indulge his fancy for the pulp novels and speculative fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs. His mastery of genres has been dizzying, and yet it was a refreshing change of pace to see Chabon writing about the 21st century with such effervescence and authority in “Telegraph Avenue,” a sprawling novel about gentrification, music and two couples — one African-American, one Jewish.
In his review for the Forward, Rich Cohen wrote that “Telegraph Avenue” is “one of those rare gems that seem to include an entire world. Its back-story is everything that ever happened to you, all those afternoons watching reruns on TV, the terrible need you felt to understand and be cool, the compromises you made after college.”
Might this herald the permanent return of Chabon to present-day culture? Probably not. His next project is an HBO show, tentatively called “Hobgoblin,” about con men and magicians trying to outwit Nazis during World War II.