Or why you should read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the story of a legendary pair of comic book creators and their amazing adventures in the Golden Age of comics. It's the story of Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist and refugee, burdened with saving his family also from the Nazi menace. It's also the story of Sam Clay, a plucky Jewish kid from Brooklyn with big dreams and a plan to help his cousin bring his family to America. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay follows the pair as they form a partnership and create The Escapist, a comic book hero who frees people from the shackles of injustice. Their hero proves popular and the pair find success and a kind of fame, meeting the beautiful debutante Rosa Saks (herself inspiration for the comic hero Luna Moth), Tracy Bacon, star actor of The Escapist Radio Show, and many of the creative forces of their day. The novel asks if Kavalier and Clay can leverage their notoriety and wealth to save Joe's family, whether they can maintain their Golden Age in the face of global tragedy, and if they can escape when things fall apart.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is very much about the history of comic books. Through the lens of Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier the novel explores the larger than life, amazing story of the kind of young dreamers who created our most enduring and beloved superhero creations. We see the escapist and vaudeville cultural roots of the caped crusader, the crappy business deals, and the genesis of a new American artform. We see comics evolve from their earliest experiments to a mature art while also developing as a business and cultural force. Basically, as we read the very engaging, beautifully written story of Kavalier and Clay, we get to learn all about comics in this very researched, very organic way. It's really great.
Thematically The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay deals with Escapism in all kinds of literal and metaphorical ways. The real dramatic drivers of the novel are the bonds, subterfuges, and lengths the characters of the book will go to escape. From Joe Kavaliers incredible escape from Czechoslovakia, to the bonds of his obligation to free his loved ones. From the escape of comic book fiction, to the bonds of financial success, and the misdirection of the significance of that success. It's the bonds of family and love and desire and revenge. It's the misdirection of the lies characters tell themselves and the lies they tell the world to hide their bonds or intentions. And it's the escape, both good and bad, that characters enact for their freedom. It's beautiful and tragic and a magic worthy of the comic book Escapist.
This is a book that I think anyone could enjoy. It's literary and beautifully written, but still full of action and genre conventions. The story inside of it is universal and funny, exciting, tragic, sad, and wonderful. It's the kind of book I can hand to my mother who like's nice, emotionally involving stories, and my brother who reads books with axes on the cover. But I think more than anything it's a book that I can recommend to anyone who visits this website that loves novels and comics: this is a novel that builds a really incredible story out of the history of superhero comics. And in doing so it becomes this great new thing constructed out of a thing I love. If you like my taste in novels and my taste in comics this book is almost certainly something you will enjoy.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union