First things first. I'm going to talk about the novel's ending first (beware extra-spoiling spoilers) and then give some final thoughts on the process of doing read alongs and reviewing ARCs. Onwards.
So part five, Brokeland, wraps up the story and boy does it. Chabon sure doesn't like any stray threads does he? As a person who often dislikes epilogues, I wish the last few pages had been marked as one so that I could have been alerted to the inevitable cheese factor involved. Maybe I sound like a bit of a scrooge, but was the happy ending just over the top? Like, is it reasonable that Archy and Gwen are reunited and Titus finds a family and Julie finally makes some friends who don't use him for sex and Nat and Archy both find ways to actually earn money and be happy and Dogpile Thang doesn't invade and oh dear lord, why can't life be like this? It's like "My Favorite Things" was just playing on loop throughout the whole end of the book (at least in my head). Oh, and can we talk about Nat delivering the baby? All I have to say about that is WTF? I mean, I get that Aviva and the doctor couldn't get there in time, but I think in that case, a nurse steps in (actually I know it, having spent some time this summer working in an OB/GYN department and asking weird questions). After Chabon's rough comedy and apparent realism, this last section just threw me for a loop. The only thing that it was missing was Fifty-Eight settling down with a canary.
So, I ended up being a little disappointed, both in content and themes. I think that Chabon's discussion of racial and sexual issues ended up being a little superficial, especially considering the great start that we got in part one. I don't feel like we really entered the issues - they were mentioned, some aspects were explored, but the scope of black experience in America ended up being very limited. For example, one major racial issue in America is blacks having trouble with the police, often just for the crime of their skin color - but we don't see that at all in the novel. That kind of thing really would have fleshed things out. Instead we get some discussion about how on average, the black main characters of the novel are better-educated than the white. Um...kay? As for the discussion of homosexuality in this final section, it actually began to offend me. We hear more about Kai, who up until now has been described as a lesbian, musician, receptionist. Now it turns out that she is about to undergo a sex change and does sleep with men. As Archy realizes, sexuality is more complicated than gay and straight. Okay, cool. I agree. But then we hear again about Julie imagining himself as a girl, and I can't help but wonder - does Chabon think that homosexuality means wishing you were the opposite sex? Because those are the only examples we get. Yes, some people think that - mostly those who have never had a respectful conversation with somebody that doesn't identify as straight. That bit really bothered me - Chabon skirts the issue and oversimplifies, in a place where he could have done something really meaningful.
So I really enjoyed doing this read along. It's fun to hear what others are saying about what I'm reading (like being an English major all over again!) and also to confirm what I learned in high school: if other people like it, I won't (e.g. Mayor of Casterbridge); if I like, other people won't (e.g. Mrs. Dalloway). The same seemed to hold true here! I felt like I was the only person to like part one and the only person to be underwhelmed by part two. Which is totally fine, it just amuses me how often that happens when I read books in tandem with others.
I guess my only complaint about the read along experience stands true for all read alongs: it's hard to know who to write to when I review, which I think this was exacerbated by the fact that I was writing about an ARC which most of my readers haven't read. Should I write to my fellow read along-ers, meaning that I reveal lots of plot details, in true book club form, thus limiting the number of people who are willing to read the post (the route I choose)? Or should I make the posts more reader-friendly, but lack much depth, which would really take away from the experience? I guess a combo is probably ideal, though it can be hard to find a balance. What do others feel about this?
As for reviewing an ARC - this is only the third time I've read one, and I'm really glad that somebody mentioned to me that they're not necessarily done being edited. I was spotting a lot of continuity errors and whatnot that, while not detracting from the story, were distracting. So it's good to know that those still have a chance to be corrected.
Thank you Emily for this opportunity and to everybody else who participated and commented! I had a lot of fun and got exposure to an author who was new to me, so that was great! Despite being a little disappointed at the end, I do think I will be reading Chabon again. He's actually doing a reading at the 92nd street Y in NYC in September and I think I might go and get another book by him signed. I'm thinking The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Thoughts?