Thursday, July 26, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read Along ~ Parts Three & Four

This is the third post in the Telegraph Avenue pre-release read along hosted by Emily at As the Crow Flies (and Reads).  In case you missed them, make sure to peruse my reviews of part one and part two.  If the book seems super-awesome, be sure to pre-order a copy!

Okay, so I know this post is a day late and that I promised that I would be better after my tardy first post, but I'm on vacation and have an excellent excuse involving a rattlesnake and a park ranger - but that's a post for another day.  Today is about Telegraph Avenue.

So, if you'll remember, I thought that part one was really great and was totally engaged, but then thought that part two lost a little something.  Happily, part three, "A Bird of Wide Experience," was fantastic.
The whole short section, eleven pages, was a single sentence.  Normally, that kind of writing irritates me (hello Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, which I have have failed to read on multiple occasions) but I thought that Chabon did a fantastic job.  It took a couple of pages for me to even notice - that's how smoothly the writing flowed.  We passed through many characters' perspectives via the flight of Cochise Jones's released bird, seeing where they were after everything that happened in the first section.  It was so well-done, and had such a great rhythm to it, that I just wanted that section to go on and on.

So in part four, "Return to Experience," we return to the action of the novel.  We find Gwen, still pregnant and still fighting the hospital, living in a dojo after leaving Archy, who can't make up his mind about whether to accept Gibson Goode's job offer, and later returning to her home and making him leave.  Titus and Julie, still continuing their physical relationship, find their way to a garage where Luther Stallings, Archy's reviled father and Titus's admired grandfather, lives in squalor.  And finally, there is the wake for Cochise Jones.  In this section, Chabon returns to his style of parts one and two, so I'm mostly just going to comment on what plot points stood out to me.

So in this section we saw the first (I think) use of that inevitable word.  You know which one.  The one that doesn't mean slave.  Okay, I'm going to say it; try not to fall out of your chair.  Nigger.  Like I said, it was inevitable - in a story based in a black community, in a time when nigger has been adopted and transformed into the familiar nigga, it was bound to come up.  But Chabon's use of it was odd.  We saw it twice in this section, I think.  The first time was spoken by Titus to Julie: Titus said, "You go right ahead, call me 'n-'" (295).  The second time it was spoken by Archy, regarding Nat:  "Nah, man, Nat's my nigger."  So here's my issue with the use of the word.  Chabon cuts of Titus when he says it, but is that censorship or does Julie interrupt?  The latter seems unlikely in context, which makes the use of the word kind of wimpy.  But then the whole word is used later, so I have no idea what's going on.  Is it an editing error, or a decision that hasn't been worked out yet?  Does Julie really cut Titus off?  I'm not sure how to read this use of the word, which I do think belongs in the story but needs some narrative consistency.

The major thing that struck me about this section was Gwen's hearing at the hospital.  This both seemed ridiculous and made me feel really angry.  Firstly, there was a hearing held about two midwives' status at a hospital because one of them was rude to a doctor.  The black midwife was rude to a white doctor.  The female midwife was rude to the male doctor.  And that black female midwife was in the hands of three white male doctors.  And of course we're left wondering if such a big deal is being made of the situation because of the power differences between doctors and other medical professionals, or between blacks and whites, or between men and women.  Any way you luck of it, Gwen got the short end of that stick, through no fault of her own.  Having a hearing over her telling off a doctor who was telling off her was just so indefensible.  I was so glad when she didn't take Aviva's submissive yessir defense and truly stated her case, told them what happened, and suggested going to EEOC over the situation.

Speaking of racial issues, Chabon did a great job tying the novel's racial and musical themes together with Archy's eulogy.  I don't have much else to say about that except to offer up a quote:
"Creole, that's to me, it sums it up.  That means you stop drawing those lines.  It means Africa and Europe cooked up in the same skillet.  Chopin, hymns, Irish music, polyrhythms, talking drums." (373)

Another thing that I really liked was our second encounter with present-day Luther Stallings.  All along we've heard all about how Archy hated his dad, with vague references to long absences, drug use, a failure to show up at important life events.  But nothing was concrete, we saw nothing from anybody else's side.  And then Titus finds his grandpa and what of significance do we learn?  Not that he lives in an auto shop or about his cinematic pipe dreams.  We see him discovering an unknown grandson and not giving a crap who he is.  The narrator doesn't highlight this, but their conversation is all Luther, all the time.  He's self-centered and uninterested and though Titus doesn't seem to notice, it all seems to be a confirmation of what Archy's been saying.  I thought this was a great expansion of his character and completely believable.

Talking about Titus, I was intrigued by the scene between him and Julie at Brokeland, when he straight-forwardly tell Julie that he's not gay like Julie, but is happy to fuck him.  This revealed a lot of affection that we haven't seen before, both expanding his character and their relationship.  We understand the dynamics between the two boys more concretely, and also see that the friendship is not all one-sided.  While Titus is clearly using Julie, he also considers him a friend - possibly his only friend.

All in all, I'm very happy with how the story is progressing, and am excited for the resolution of the various story lines.  See you all next week!


  1. I posted late, too - so you're not alone! I don't have an excuse containing a snake and a park ranger, though...

    Anyway, good observation about the use of that word. I wonder if maybe that will be made consistent in the final book, or if it was intentional? I hate when I have to wonder things like that when reading an advance - it does still have a final round of editing, after all.

    1. Oh, that's good to know! I was wondering if advanced copies are considered "done" or if they're still in process. There were some other continuity errors I found, so hopefully they will all be cleared up before publication.

  2. Rattlesnake and a park ranger? Can't wait to hear about that one!

    I'm in total agreement with you the 12-page sentence in section III. Gorgeous writing and a nifty way to tie everybody to location.

    As for the use (or almost use) of "nigger," I didn't even pay attention the first time it happened in the text. I vaguely recall it now that you draw attention to it, but that's it. As for Archy saying it about Nat, it kind of melted my heart, actually. Aside from his beautiful eulogy, t's the strongest emotional claim that he's made in the whole book so far, and the fact that he's basically claiming his business partner as family, and (I'm hoping) stating his intention to stick by him with Brokeland made me happy.

  3. Posting even later than you but my excuse is 2 boys, a best friend, a water slide that required 4 participants on the raft and that left me! And no time for reading.

  4. I haven't even posted yet, and we're already almost ready for the next post! I envy your ability to get it done!

    A question for you that is sort of a follow up to the conversation on Forever Overhead's - do you think that Titus is also struggling with his sexuality? You seem to be reading their relationship the same way I did - that Titus is straight, but lacking something he's able to get through taking a some advantage of Julie. But I sat here and argued sexuality with my boyfriend and am now feeling I'm the only one who doesn't see sexuality as black and white (bah-dum-cha).

    1. I haven't given it much thought, but I'd imagine he does have some question about it, if he's having sex with Julie. Though he makes a point about not kissing so maybe it really is physical? The final section (or what I've read of it) off-handedly address the ambiguity of sexuality in another character and I don't see why that shouldn't say something about Titus as well, or anyone really.

    2. I started reading that just after I finished my comment. It's very interesting.