Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The Yiddish Policeman’s Union"

Michael Chabon is one of those authors who somehow succeeds at being both a compellingly entertaining storyteller and a master of prose that ranks as great literary art—and that is no mean feat.

Instead of arrogantly subjugating his tale to demonstrate his rhetorical prowess, as is the case with too many other hot writers, Chabon proves you can have your cake and guide it into your bride’s mouth without shoving & mashing it, too.

That’s not to say that his newest book, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, doesn’t push the boundaries almost to the breaking point. Nothing succeeds like excess, as they say, but every time I began to find Chabon’s stylistic flourishes a bit cloying, precious or overly self-conscious, he ambushed me with such delightful surprises, maintained a breakneck pace of storytelling, managed to pay homage to and parody noir-ish conventions and enveloped me in an imaginary world so bizarre-yet-still-familiar that I found myself retracting every critical objection—though maybe not every occasional “groan.”

In brief, the setting is Sitka, Alaska, a temporary homeland for the Jews created when they lost the Israeli war of independence in 1948 and were forced to emigrate. The sacred and profane co-exist uneasily in this claustrophobic territory hemmed-in between mountains and sea, as evidenced in homicide detective Meyer Landsman and a cartel run by, of all people, a Hasidic sect and their beloved rabbi.

The speculative nature of the world he’s created brings to mind Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, of course, but Roth’s book suffers in comparison because it takes itself so seriously in order to make a point (I still liked that book, also). Chabon, on the other hand, is unafraid of allowing his whimsical anarchy to lead the reader to draw his own conclusions about the world today and how—or if—it could even have been any different.

Until next time…


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