Summary and book reviews of Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue

By Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2012,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2013,
    496 pages.

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Book Summary

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there - longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart - half tavern, half temple - stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is the great American novel we've been waiting for. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon's most dazzling book yet.

Dream of Cream

A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike. Dark August morning, deep in the Flatlands. Hiss of tires. Granular unraveling of skateboard wheels against asphalt. Summertime Berkeley giving off her old-lady smell, nine different styles of jasmine and a squirt of he-cat.

The black boy raised up, let go of the handlebars. The white boy uncoupled the cars of their little train. Crossing his arms, the black boy gripped his T-shirt at the hem and scissored it over his head. He lingered inside the shirt, in no kind of hurry, as they rolled toward the next pool of ebbing streetlight. In a moment, maybe, the black boy would tug the T-shirt the rest of the way off and fly it like a banner from his back pocket. The white boy would kick, push, and reach out, feeling for the spark of bare brown skin against his palm. But for now the kid on the skateboard just coasted along behind the blind ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. There are many different variations on father-and-son relationships—both real and makeshift—explored in the novel. What might the author be trying to convey through these complicated liaisons?
  2. The majority of the characters in the novel are members of some minority group—African American, Jewish, Asian. Would you say thatTelegraph Avenue is fundamentally a novel about race?
  3. Like her husband, Archy, Gwen is African American, but of a decidedly different social class, upbringing, and education. How do these differences affect her marriage, as well as her position in this close-knit Oakland community—both in her own view and in the view of others?
  4. Telegraph Avenue, the real-life Bay Area street at the center of ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Michael Chabon knows how to do narrative sweep; he knows how to write an epic. The author is skilled at knitting the various elements of a story together with material borrowed from a larger setting or theme.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (1147 words).

Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

'Virtuosity' is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yiddish Policeman'’s Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable.

Booklist

Starred Review. A magnificently crafted, exuberantly alive, emotionally lustrous, and socially intricate saga....Bubbling with lovingly curated knowledge about everything from jazz to pregnancy…Chabon's rhapsodically detailed, buoyantly plotted, warmly intimate cross-cultural tale of metamorphoses is electric with suspense, humor, and bebop dialogue….An embracing, radiant masterpiece...

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An end-of-an era epic....A Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track.

Library Journal

Starred Review. If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it’s Chabon....Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here’s a rare book that really could be the great American novel.

GQ

A beautiful, prismatic maximalism of description and tone, a sly meditation on appropriation as the real engine of integration, and an excellent rationale for twelve-page sentences.

Elle

Chabon’s hugely likable characters all face crises of existential magnitude, rendered in an Electra Glide flow of Zen sentences and zinging metaphors that make us wish the needle would never arrive at the final groove.

Esquire

A genuinely moving story about race and class, parenting and marriage…Chabon is inarguably one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, powering out sentences that are the equivalent of executing a triple back flip on a bucking bull while juggling chain saws and making love to three women.

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Blaxploitation Movies

In Telegraph Avenue, Luther Stallings, Archy's dad, was once a star in blaxploitation films that were all the rage in the '70s. Even though the term appears to be a loaded word, blaxploitation movies were actually powerful vehicles of self-identification for many blacks. Understandably this view was not held by all. Many black organizations including the NAACP believed most blaxploitation movies reinforced common white stereotypes about black people.

Blaxploitation Films During the heyday of blaxploitation movies in the early '70s, the civil rights movement was still a nascent thing and black stars - especially leading heroes - were not commonly found on the mainstream Hollywood big screen. Sure there was Sidney Poitier who starred most famously in Guess ...

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