kavclay“In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.”

When you think of a fantastic (or does one dare say “great”?) American novel, you rarely have the image of a comic book come to mind.  But the frightfully good writing of Michael Chabon has taken the roots of the comic book industry – placed in the hands of two young men coming of age during the time of Hitler – and turned it into a marvelous picture of America’s coming of age, spanning decades and ideals and standards.

Sam Clay has grown up with his father – a strongman in a circus – never around.  Suffering from polio damaged legs, all Sam dreams about is being a comic book legend.  When his cousin from German, Joe Kavalier, arrives mysteriously (having been smuggled most magically out of the country) Sam finds his partner.  Joe’s ability to draw, to bring Sam’s stories to life, is profound.  Immediately, the pair set out to create America’s next great comic book superhero; each for their own reasons.

Despite my lack of interest in the comic book world, or its history, I enjoyed this book.  I have a fondness for stories which cut a broad swath through a person’s history; I like background and origin, crises and resolution, and even the golden years of fading away in reflection.  Which may explain why I have trouble focusing on the snap shots of the short story genre.  This book provides a nearly complete synopsis of both Kavalier and Clay – from beginning to end.  Not everything is outright written, but everything is implied.  Just the sort of story I like.  I came to love Sammy, Joe, Tommy, and Rosa simply because I felt I knew them.  I knew their histories – even the parts they were unaware of.  I fretted over them and wished for the best in their lives.  And befriending characters is my ideal way of working my way through a novel.  I have heard that this is the best of Chabon’s novels, so it may be a while before I venture into another of his works.  But I’m certain sometime in the future I’ll find myself browsing along his shelf in the library and bringing something home.

“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” was written by Michael Chabon and published in 2000.