“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon (Random House, 2000)

Superman Sucks; Escapist Excels!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayStarStarStarStarstar

Michael Chabon, author of Wonder Boys, brings us the Pulitzer Prize-winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. A riveting novel of the comic book world set against the backdrop of the Second World War. Its two heroes, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay, fight through the world of color, ink and writing, to compete with the likes of Superman and Batman – the result is an amazing story that has never been told.

This is a coming-of-age story for two very distinct characters. One is Sammy Klayman, an aspiring writer trying to make it in New York. Working for Empire Inc., the best he can do, in his diminished capacity, is come up with catchy ad slogans. Though he hopes for so much more, he seems stuck in this rut. During his spare time he draws pictures; though not excellent in skill and look, they are good enough for comics, one of his great loves.

Then there is Josef Kavalier: a boy born in the impoverished ghettos of Prague, where every day is a fight for survival. Taken under the wing of a mentor, Bernard Kornblum, he is taught in the ways of the magician and illusionists – like the immortal Houdini. As months pass, he is soon able to break out of any chains, and undo any lock with the help of his small tools (secretly stashed amongst his teeth and gums). Then he performs a mighty illusion: breaking free of a chained sack that has been hurled into an icy river; he barely survives, but his brother suffers a debilitating accident, and from then on Kavalier will have no more to do with this trickery.

His only hope of coming to true fruition is to get to America, where there is insurmountable opportunity. Having failed to get a visa, with the advent of the Germans seizing further control of Eastern Europe, he hides himself in the coffin of a golem and makes it to Lithuania, where he catches a ship bound for New York. There he meets up with none other than Samuel Klayman.

The two get together and propose their idea for the first comic book to the head men of Empire Inc. They are given the weekend to come up with the entire comic, and come Monday morning they deliver the first episode of the superhero known as the Escapist; his job is to disperse all evil; there is no lock he cannot pick, no bond he cannot break. And so begins the fulfilling career for these two young men, covering many years and riches.

Chabon is a certified master of the language, taking the reader on sweeps and bounds through imagery set at a new level: “Thunder harried the building like a hound, brushing its crackling coat against the spandrels and mullions, snuffling all the windowpanes.”

Once the reader finishes this book, they are left with the happy complacency that Amazing Adventure received one of the highest prizes possible. The story is of a quality that is a rarity in the literature of today’s world. In short: everyone needs to read this book, be they reader or writer.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on September 4th 2001 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.