Michael Chabon's new novel, Telegraph Avenue, is about two deeply intertwined families in Oakland, Calif. — one black, the other white. The story takes place in 2004, mainly in and around a store owned by the two fathers. Called Brokeland Records and a haven for secondhand-vinyl aficionados, the store is suddenly threatened by a rich ex-NFL player's plans to build a megastore in the neighborhood. The mothers from each family are midwives in practice together, and their sons are involved in a complicated friendship. It's a quirky tale, told by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon with his typical enthusiasm for colorful description and elaborate metaphor. His style sometimes gets in the way of the story and he may test some readers' patience with a single 12-page sentence but, overall, his writing is just jaw-droppingly good.
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We talked to Chabon recently about his writing, his vinyl records and that 12-page sentence.
Q: Why set this story in Oakland?
A: I live in Berkeley, right on the Berkeley/Oakland line. I walked into a used-record store in Oakland one day back in 1999, and saw all these guys who were black and white sitting around shooting the breeze. I was struck by the way — at least at the moment I was in the store that day — they had succeeded in creating this magical space where all the other differences between them seemed to drop away and they were united by their common passion for vintage vinyl.
Q: You have one sentence in the book that's 12 pages long. What's up with that?
A: Well, I was beginning the second half of the novel, and felt I needed to check in on all of my characters and see what they were all doing. I thought, "What if I could do it with one sentence, and capture that exhilarating swoop you get from a tracking shot in a movie?" And then I thought about having a bird do it, like a bird's-eye view in a sense. Thus the parrot.
Q: Do you have a turntable?
A: I do. I listen to it every day while I work. You have to get up every 20 minutes to turn the record over or put on a new record. I discovered that it's a really good regimen to get the blood flowing. I've gone over almost completely to vinyl at this point.
Next: How does Michael Chabon differ from other writers? »