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Well huzzah and praise Buddha, Chabon's finally hitting his stride. After a first chapter stuck in first gear, weighed down by a freightload of expository and stylistic baggage, "The Church of Vinyl" slams on the gas and takes off into a full-fledged, multi-faceted plot while deepening our understanding of independent record store owners Nat and Archy, as well as Archy's pregnant midwife wife, Gwen. We're even treated to a few pages inside the venerable dome of Mr. Randall "Cochise" Jones, the Hammond-genius jazzman who's both wise and eccentric in equal measures. Now Chabon's focusing on just a few core characters rather than bopping around among a crowded cast as he did in the first section: Again, huzzah. And his authorial stylings seem far less obtrusive than they were in "Dream of Cream": More matter with less self-conscious art. Yay.
There is much to applaud in this chapter, so in the interest of time - and with the hope that those not participating in this read-along will purchase the novel when it debuts in September - here's a trio of passages that raised an appreciative smile:
- Of the oily yet powerful councilman Chan Flowers, funeral chapel owner, erstwhile best friend of Blackspoitation star Luther Stallings, and ominous presence in the Brokeland neighborhood: "A smile opened, thin as a paper cut, at the bottom of Flowers's face." (So much shown, so much characterization implied, so economically.)
- I just kept chuckling and shaking my head during Nat's first COCHISE neighborhood meeting. It seemed painfully realistic (given Nat's email list) that 90% of his crowd turned out to be white Berkeley-esque types, that he had to "bribe" Singletary to be there, and that he forgot to tell Archy about the meeting. The "Juddhists" among the aging hippies in attendance codged a particularly broad smile too as I thought, "If such a New Agey hybrid religion exists, it would have to be born in Berkeley." Then I looked it up. It's real, sort of, and the term was supposedly coined in 2005 at Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace Today" retreat at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. Then I found this light-hearted thread with "Juddhist" sayings: Zen Juddhism. It made me wonder if Chabon himself might have found this religious hybrid personally appealing. Enjoy.
- And here's a lovely extended analogy that also feels organically right. It's Aviva Jaffe reflecting on the impeccable manners of teenage, Texas-bred houseguest, Titus Joyner:
She had to admit that she loved the "sirs" and "ma'ams" that aflowed from his lips so readily, drawled out like pats of butter smeared across a biscuit. She remembered hiking in Yosemite with Nat and Julie a few summers back. Climbing to the top of the Mist Trail up a preposterous stairway of stones proposed, cut, hauled, and fixed immovably into place, proof against time and earthquakes, under the auspices of the WPA. She remembered feeling grateful to those long-dead men, the planners and the workers, for their foresight, their labor, the heroic absurdity of that granite stair. That was how she felt, whenever he would "ma'am" her, toward the dead grandmother of this boy.
What? I'm Not The Only Reader In The Blogospheres? To find out if other book bloggers shared my enthusiasm for the second chapter in Telegraph Avenue and to enjoy their trenchant, humorous, and thought-provoking commentary, just hop to the linky-list over at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads). Last week's "conversations" provided a wonderfully welcome diversity of perspectives on this novel, and I trust that the same will be true today.
A Prediction and a Question for Read-Alongers: Call me crazy, and I've been wrong once already, but I'm guessing that "A Bird of Wide Experience" is Fifty-Eight, and I was indeed wondering what would become of him. Will Titus take him on? Will Archy?
MFB in The Church of Vinyl,
TA Pilgrimage Update: I've been planning my Telegraph Avenue trip via Google Earth maps. Even though I've visited the Berkeley end more than once, I had a completely inaccurate mental picture of what the Neldham's/Brokeland Records neighborhood looks like. The bakery actually closed and was re-opened by its workers as Taste of Denmark. You can bet that'll be stop number one!