30 Days of Book Reviews: Day Nine: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Read from December 12, 2013 to January 11, 2014
I am so obsessed with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay that I am both listening to it and reading it. How did I miss this?

Dear Michael,

Please excuse me while I bat my eye lashes at you a little. I am reading Maps Legends right now and enjoying it so much I actually stopped reading until I had a pen and a cup of tea. Your prose is sick – either in fiction or non-fiction form – and your thoughts on the literary market are like the most trenchant observations taken from years of rants with Rebecca and others. But I should be clear that I only discovered Maps Legends because I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier Clay.

When I was reading K&C, I wondered how I missed it, but you published smack in the middle of law school. Mind you, I still read a ton of novels in law school, but mostly I read a ton of crap. Shameful, shameful pulp, chick lit, mass market mysteries and, oh yes Michael, romance novels. Don’t tell anyone, okay? It’s kind of embarassing for the aspiring queen of Victorian literature to admit the rubbish she’s read. 

K&C was yet another Nikki recommendation (sensing a theme here), but I didn’t pick it up until this winter. In fact, I put off starting The Goldfinch, my literary obsession of the decade, to read K&C. And I’m glad I did, because but for Finch, you would be my Donna. 

With you, I want to talk about place, which probably makes some sense to you, brilliant man that you are, because the physical and metaphyscal place K&C describes is what makes it so enjoyable (and you discuss hit the lack of reading for enjoyment so hard in Maps Legends. K&C has brilliant, richly drawn characters, and a large plot that moves and makes sense, but its magic comes in its places, which you deliver, in large doses, through the use of the golden age of the comic book. 

Honestly, Michael, the use of the comic book as a story device made me want to go back to age 11 or 12 and be a girl who reads comic books, who thinks in terms of drawing and writing in those ways, instead of the larger, messier, and less potent canvas and manuscript. As you know, Joe Kavalier is an artist and magician who escapes Prague as the Germans invade to protect the mythical Golem of Prague (google the legend, readers, if you are not familiar with the story of the jew who breathed life into a clay child by putting God’s name on his tongue. I cannot do it justice here). And that magical place of your Joe’s childhood leaps off the page. Suddenly we are doing illusionist tricks by the river. But once you get out, the place shifts and we are enchanted. 

You end up in New York, sharing a room with your tiny cousin Sammy. Within basically no time, the two of you discover you have a knack for comic book creation. You draw, Sammy writes, you collaborate on ideas. And so many of the great themes of what an American consumer wants come out of these discussions. I could have read another 100 pages of Joe and Sammy writing comic books. But instead you take us from their micro level to the macro level and discuss the development of the comic book genre – the major characters, the sales, the story lines and the companies who publish them – and it becomes a place. Like a corner of Manhattan we might walk around, you take us on a long walk through the places of the golden age of comic books and its a long, epic walk that spans the origin until the senate committee hearings. 

At some point, Joe splits leaving Clay to fend for himself as well as Joe’s pin-up girlfriend. But the place he ends up is its own magical space. A small room in a giant building. So much of this feels like the perfectly shot 1940s/1950s New York film and the characters’ ease and disease in the space creates an epic that spans time, themes, and lives. It is worth every last word.

Thanks again, Michael. See you later in your essays. 

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