Noir, Believability, Other Meandering Queries

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betsy....@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 15, 2007, 12:32:37 PM8/15/07
to Readers Anonymous
I'm about 3/4 done now, and I'm having some reoccuring thoughts that
I'd like opinions on. First off, the genre. It's a really interesting
premise, blended somewhere between fantasy and sci-fi. Yet it's also
quite clearly a classic noir detective story. It almost doesn't work
(at least Landsman's character) without that noir context in my head.
It took me a minute to translate that film context to the novel, but
now it explains more of his character and actions.

Other thing, it gets pretty beyond-coincidentally strange in the
second half. I find myself reading along and accepting the plot twists
at face value. Is it the fantasy element of the whole book that make
this acceptable to me? Anyone else finding this? I think I'm kinda
fussy about potentially unbelievable plot twists (a-hem, Hosseini) and
I'm not quite sure what about this novel is making them work for me.

Final meandering thought--with spoilers for chapter 30(ish). Anyone
else enjoy piecing together the Jews' status in the world? I'm finding
it fascinating. I was surprised by the indications of Jews elsewhere
in the U.S. Jews with money to be donated. Then Landsman refers to
them as the "Barrys, Marvins, and Susies" of Judaism (paraphrasing,
don't have the book in front of me). We have a couple parts that sound
completely modern and accurate. It could almost devolve into some
playful conversation about Jews controlling Hollywood and therefore
the world.

It's funny, because this part connects the narrative to our own world
more clearly. I have more to say, but no more desire to write...

I'd love to hear someone else's more coherent thoughts on any of this.

richt...@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 15, 2007, 1:14:25 PM8/15/07
to Readers Anonymous
I found this interesting as well... I think it goes back to that other
discussion on the actual dialect of the book and, having finished the
book and still trying to wrap my brain around it, my only thought is
that as Landsman's own brain becomes less muddled the actual writing
of the book becomes less short and choppy as well. From what I read
on wiki this is the 3rd version of the book, which took roughly 5
years to write. To kind of firm up the point of view that it is
Landsman that is, more or less, controlling the tempo of the story,
the original drafts of the story were done in the first person.

I think it is interesting to consider this from the Fantasy Story
point of view. In many ways, with Science Fiction/Fantasy writing
most of the futuristic elements, communications, transportation,
government, etc. etc. are not clearly described but they're given a
futuristic or onomatopoeia-esque sounding name, with this book he has
simply placed in the Yiddish alternative to it.

Could you be more specific on the parts that you find going into more
of the "fantasy elements?" I dunno, hopefully they'll wrap up for
you. There is a rather major plot twist at the end that I had to re-
read several times to completely understand but I'll let you wrap it
up first and then let me know, I'm going to try to re-read it...

betsy....@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 15, 2007, 2:45:22 PM8/15/07
to Readers Anonymous
Oh, by fantasy element I was just refering to the premise of the book.
As it's written, the setting/premise is somewhat surreal. I wouldn't
call it entirely unbelievable, but I think it is surreal. Therefore, I
might be giving Chabon some leeway with the plot, whereas I might not
be so inclined if this were historical fiction or something like that.
It's a thought at least. Although I really can't come up with an
actual setting/culture/time period to otherwise set the novel.

Nice to have discussion about a book again...

Oh, thanks for the offer to borrow other Chabon. Scott just finished
Kavalier and Clay, so I think we're going to take a break for a bit.
Scott loved it and will definitely be reading more of him in the
future.

richt...@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 16, 2007, 2:07:05 PM8/16/07
to Readers Anonymous
I liked this one but preferred Kavalier and Clay... that's an
interesting point on the time period. I assumed it was 2008 because
the 60 year pact was coming up. However, there was a lot of old style
aspects. The police officers wearing suits and more specifically
fedoras. Otherwise I don't really know of any other identifiable
touches for that...

Have you finished the book? what did you think of the ending?

betsy....@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 17, 2007, 1:14:01 PM8/17/07
to Readers Anonymous
I haven't finished yet. And I'm not sure if I'll like Kavalier and
Clay as much as Scott and you do. I just don't have that comic book
connection.

For the time period, I'm merely pontificating about the plot and
premise separately from the actual time period. You're right, it's
very clearly current.

You know how some Literature has that sort of universality that
transcends the time and place it is written in? Like how Romeo and
Juliet works as a modern tale with Israeli and Palestinian families or
members of rival LA gangs. I was trying to figure out if the struggles
and conflicts of this novel applies in other circumstances in the same
way. I'm not coming up with them. Frankly, my little exercise with
myself doesn't really matter. I don't think that universality is the
only determining factor of capital L Literature, I'm just letting my
associative mind explore.

I more often like novels that center around characters. Really good,
solid characters. In many of those books, the setting, both time and
place, tend to fall away a bit. I think this novel is the rarer kind
in decent literature. The characters are not, in my mind, universal.
Nor are their struggles. The setting, especially the fictional
elements, is paramount to everything. I find it unusual to enjoy books
that are based so strongly on a fictionalized setting.

richt...@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 20, 2007, 4:41:55 PM8/20/07
to Readers Anonymous
Kavalier and Clay isn't really about comics... it's more about magic,
escapists and illusionists and only uses comics to set up the time
period of New York and the climate of the United States more so than
offering in inside jokes in the comic world. Not that I'm trying to
defend it, but you offer a very interesting comment. 'Wonderboys' is,
I believe, the only story by this author that doesn't take place in
some sort of alternate reality. Not, as you said, you could really
say that this book qualifies as Science Fiction however I did spend a
lot of the book trying to put it all together. The end of the book I
think will help you with this and kind of transcends it all, however I
do not wish to ruin it for you.

I'm finding these discussions to be a little bit difficult. On one
hand I really enjoyed the book and was sad to see it come to its'
conclusion; the conclusion, perhaps, could be the only topic that
could merit a good discussion but even that works together so well it
will be difficult. The book is tied up so nicely the good parts all
wrap themselves up within one another that I'm having a really
difficult time coming up with discussion questions for it. I don't
know if this is what separates Literature from literature... I've
always had problems with cannon literature until I try to spread out
and read something contemporary from the 18th century and realize for
myself how important the cannon can be. However, I like to think that
I recognize good writing and this, to my mind is that.

betsy....@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 20, 2007, 5:29:00 PM8/20/07
to Readers Anonymous
I see your point (except for the end of the novel stuff, still about
50 pages off-I've got several other books going right now). I do think
that the book makes itself difficult to talk about. I have spent a few
parts of the novel trying to put things together as well. It's a
detective story, so I think that goes with the territory. Plus, I have
big time trouble with names, so I have that part getting in the way
(we really do have a big roster of characters, right?). And then, once
you put each part together, well, there you have it, no discussion
there.

I'm sure we could discuss the novel in the context of current
religious extremism/fundamentalism/etc, but I really don't want to. I
don't think that's what the novel is about.

Maybe this is the English teacher part of me, but I usually feel like
novels (even the nontraditional good stuff) have themes that apply
across time and space. This one, I'm not coming up with those themes
so much (other than the religious stuff, but again, not interested in
going there). I do agree, though, it is good writing. And you're
totally right, it was a terrible time as an English major when we sat
in intro to lit theory or whatever and spent too much time coming up
with no good answer to the question, "what is Lit?" so with that, we
can drop the thread.

richt...@gmail.com

unread,
Aug 21, 2007, 4:24:29 PM8/21/07
to Readers Anonymous
I'll be interested to see what you think of the ending of the book...
I think it will give us much to talk about... that should give us much
to think about...

I still maintain that the theme or at least how the novel is told
changes from the start to the finish. I don't know if this is
something that was answered in another discussion but it seems that
the actual use of language and the structure of sentences changes
throughout the novel. While at the onset they are very short, choppy
and specific towards the end they become more extended and
descriptive. Again, I don't know if this was because the novel was
originally written in the first person and the story is, more or less,
told through the eyes of Landsman so the story changes with him.

I dunno, I'm interested to see what you think of the end of it. I
know I was always told to read a book through twice so you could
actually understand underlying messages or themes. This book really
brings that on home. I don't really want to ruin any of that for you,
but, with your mindset, I'll be interested to see what you think of
the end of it.

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