Although I rarely do this, it’s been such a busy week, what with the holiday and getting ready to go visit my family on the east coast, I decided to take myself to the local coffee joint to write this review. It would take me away from the piles of laundry that need to be washed, sorted, and packed, the dishes that are piling up on every available surface, and the vacuuming that will only seem interesting as a procrastinatory technique. I figured it would also keep me from running errands (right now, my list says I should be at the grocery store, the bank, and the dry cleaners, preferably simultaneously), another activity that becomes suspiciously exciting when faced with real work.
It seemed like a pretty solid plan. It’s worked well for me in the past. In fact, I wrote almost all of my NaNo novel here last year (and the year before that). Because, honestly, if you go to all the trouble of packing up the computer, power cord, and a reusable cup, there’s no way you’ll be distracted (right?!). For one thing, at my neighborhood Starbucks (a little chain you may have heard of…don’t judge – it’s within walking distance and has free wi-fi), the competition for tables is so fierce that even pausing to stare into space and structure a sentence for more than ten seconds will earn you death stares from people who didn’t make it in time to get a table before the squatters (ie people like me) arrived. I know because I’ve perfected my own version of the stare – it’s the “if you’ve got a table, you better be writing a work of pure genius” look of someone who overslept.
There’s not a lot of genius going on here today. The guy to my left is checking the stock market (I think) – he’s at least talking about stocks loudly on his phone while staring at a bunch of number charts on his computer. The woman on my right is a new mom. She looks tired. She’s booking flights to China while the baby sleeps. (Did I mention the tables are uncomfortably close together here?)
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not judging (that would be the seat-less furies by the door). Genius is as far a reach for me today as the idea of getting my to-do list done by the time I board a plane tomorrow morning. It’s perhaps a slightly less far reach for me than it is for the man sitting at a table across from me who has fallen sleep with his computer open. (He probably should have ordered a coffee.) And maybe it’s closer than it would be for the couple making out over their computer by the window (although, on second thought, maybe not).
What I’m trying to say is, I’m not on my game. And I’m sorry. Because the truth is, I liked the second half of Summerland even better than the first half. Chabon is just…he’s brilliant. In such an understated way too. It’s not that he underwrites, although my instinct is to say that he does; it’s more that he makes every sentence count. I never get the feeling of wasted space from his stories. It’s like each sentence is a brush stroke and it’s only when I step back and stop reading that I can truly appreciate what he’s created.
I’m trying to space his books out too, because even though I have his most well-received book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, on my shelf and would love to dive in, his writing is too rich to rush. Even Summerland, ostensibly a children’s book, was a banquet – I had to pace myself. Every time I picked up the book, I felt like I was stepping back into a childhood I didn’t quite have, but also, didn’t quite not have…because the adventure and tragedy and friendship Chabon writes of are at times fantastical and familiar.
My own history is a myth I’ve created from memories I believe are real and lies I told to protect myself, and I couldn’t tell you the truth of it all even if I wanted to. That’s the way of childhood, and that’s what he captures in this book – the maze of deep shadows and dead ends and thorny walls that must be scaled. It’s a world we’re mostly happy to have survived (relatively) unscathed, but occasionally, a book like this comes along and convinces us it’s safe to dip our toes back into the murky waters…and mostly, it is.
Learn more about Michael Chabon here.