I can’t gush enough about Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’ll admit that it’s been several years (at least five, I know) since I finished a book of fiction. The basic plot goes something like this, a young Jew (Joseph Kavalier) escapes Prague as the Nazi’s approach in the late 1930s. It’s quite a trip he must take to arrive on his Aunt’s doorstep in New York City where he meets his eventual life-long best friend, his cousin (Sam Clayman). And or course there’s a girl, an avant garde painter: Rosa Saks. The arc of the story follows these characters through their lives in the world of comic books.
Theme #1: Escape. From the Nazis. From Hell’s Kitchen. From secrets. From chronic bad luck. From death. From locks and chains and other performance contraptions. From love. From responsibility.
And who might possibly read this novel without bringing to it something from which we’ve at least fantasized escape? We are all escape artists from something. I escaped from the Red River Valley of North Dakota. From a working class class childhood in a small town on the Great Plains. From loves I didn’t want any more. From loves that didn’t want me anymore. From faith-crushing doubt. From depression. From pessimism. From jobs that would have atrophied my soul.
Themse #2: Love. Cultivated out of a chance passing. Huge love that isn’t quite big enough to overcome enormous tragedy. Forbidden love realized, but inevitably crushed. Love in marriage, but the wrong kind of love. Love of family, but not big enough to save that family. Love that can’t be endured. Wanting love to die by saying goodbye.
And we’ve all reckoned with love before. Not exactly a new theme in literature. But maybe the only one we really ever read about. No, no. There are others. Humor. Fear. Home. Okay, so love is just one of the biggies. And maybe this book is so important to me because I’m so messed up about love. About a father’s love in light of his suicide. About the sacrifices my mom made because of her love for my bother and sister and I. About the bad choices I’ve made when love is gone. About not being able to let love go. About not being able to let love stay.
Other themes: The importance of fathers to sons. The social role of fantasy. The complexity of friendship. The brutality of capitalist economics. The magic of magic. And all of these drawn together with lines and colors of escape and love.