Boy, That Michael Chabon Sure Can Write

31 Dec

I'm seriously.

I am reading Michael Chabon’s novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and holy crap, you guys. I’m about 3/4ths of the way through, and literally (and I mean, literally, I’ll prove it in a minute), every page is loaded with some of the most grin-inducingly awesome writing I’ve seen.

I’ve always really liked Chabon’s writing, but with TYPU he has outdone himself – not only does it feature his most colorful prose, it also has an actual, real plot, a noir murder mystery that has momentum, and takes place in something approximating real-time. The one thing that people could say to take away from, say, Wonder Boys or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was that they both contained wandering narratives that didn’t know how to reach a conclusion. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union addresses that issue with freaking aplom, and is easily Chabon’s best work.

To illustrate how great it is, I will now flip through the amount that I have read at random and pick little bits, one per two-page section – no cheating – until you are convinced that you need to go buy and read this book.

“The rest of Sitka’s homicides are so-called crimes of passion, which is a shorthand way of expressing the mathematical product of alcohol and firearms.” (p6)

“He returns the iron lid of his hat by half-inches to his head, the way you ease down a manhole cover.” (p. 91)

“The sight of that somber emperor, that mountain of dignity, that fearsome bulk mincing around in high-heeled shoes! A blond wig! Lipstick and rouge, bangles and spangles! It might have been the single most horrible feat of female impersonation Jewry ever produced.” (p. 121)

“A girl with a healthy appetite, that was his mother’s first recorded statement on the subject of Bina Gelbfish twenty years ago. Like most of his mother’s compliments, it was convertible to an insult when needed.” (p. 156)

“Brennan’s there, that large-headed man, hatless and coatless, necktie blown over his shoulder, a penny in his left loafer, bankrupt in the right. Patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket, its color a practical shade of gravy stain. His cheek could use a shave and his pate a fresh coat of wax. Maybe things didn’t go so well for Dennis Brennan out in the big time.” (p.63)

“The air around the musician hums almost to burning with the radiance of alcohol.” (p. 74)

“Then he sees Buchbinder, that archaeologist of delusion. A dentist, he was driven by his talent with pliers and the lost-wax mold, in classic dentist manner to take up some after-hours form of miniature madness such as jewelry making or dollhouse parquetry. But then, as happens sometimes to dentists, Buchbinder got a little carried away.” (148)

“If she slept well last night, in the narrow bed in her old room, on the top floor of a two-family house on Japonski Island, with old Mr. Oysher and his prosthetic leg bumping around downstairs, it doesn’t show in the hollows and shadows of her face. Her eyebrows are all involved with each other again. Her rouged lips have narrowed to a brick-red seam two millimeters wide.” (p. 164)

And last, the most amazing description of a donut I’ve ever read:

…he picks up the shtekeleh and takes a bite. It’s still warm, and there’s a hint of vanilla, and the crust crunches between his teeth like a caramel glaze on a pot of custard. As it goes into Landsman’s mouth, Benito watches with the appraising coldness of an orchestra conductor auditioning a flutist.
“That good, Benny.”
“Don’t insult me, Detective, I beg you.”
“I know it’s good.”
“The best.”
“Nothing in your life even comes close.”
This is so easily true that the sentiment brings a sting of tears to Landsman’s eyes, and to cover that, he eats another donut. (p.175)

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is that donut, just an amazing, layered pleasure in every page.  I’m really trying to make it last – I kind of just want to type out the entire book, and in the process, re-read what I’ve read so far.

By now, I hope you get it – do yourself a favor and get a copy.

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