Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Fanboy Chabon

I'm juggling a few things at once at the moment – and not in a cool Rahsaan Roland Kirk way, either – so go here to read Jimmy G's assessment of the new Chabon book of essays. (Mr G turns 105 today, by the way. Hurry up and die you fossilized old gatekeeper!)

The review's great, but I have one point of contention:
...Chabon's argument goes off the rails when he equates the value of strictly genre fiction (and other pop art forms) with such literary classics as Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby – seminal works that have undoubtedly "entertained" generations of readers but have endured and inspired precisely because they provide something far richer than amusement, and do so primarily through harnessing the unique powers of the written word. Moby Dick may indeed have a similar plot and larger-than-life characters as many genre novels, but its prose contains a few things those novels lack – raw genius, richness of character and a seemingly exhaustless depth of expression and allusion.
I don't disagree with this, but I would say the real problem with Chabon's argument is that, except for the last 50 or so pages, Moby Dick isn't even very exciting. Melville was a popular novelist in his day, but Dick was seen as a giant, flabby, boring flop, too full of theology and cetology to work as an adventure story. The bare story makes for a great comic book, but it could have been told in about 75 pages. Melville took around 800. It's a brilliant book, but it's a work of endurance. You have to sweat your way through it, and the rewards, though enormous, are rarely immediate.

But like I said. I'm kind of busy.


Old Man Grainger said...

A point I wish I'd had the space to make in the review is that Chabon often equates "entertainment" with "story," using the concepts interchangably throughout the collection. So according to this loosey goosey definition, Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby and even The Bible are works of art because they "entertain" through the power of "story." Chabon is too clever to come out and say this, because if he did the obvious response would be: "Why doesn't anybody but a few bored scholars read the far more "story-rich source" material for Hamlet and King Lear? Why read the plays, in which the "story" is so clearly secondary to character and expressive language?" Chabon, like so many of his McSweeney's buddies, resorts to cool-hoarding and adjective-juggling to distract the reader from this and many other non-arguments in the essays.

Evie said...

umm... happy 105th Mr Grainger?