Friday, January 18, 2008

Time Enough At Last: Review of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road by Dan McNulty

In his newest release, Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon presents us with his latest genre-bending experiment. In Gentlemen of the Road, he delves into the ancient world circa 950AD chronicling the adventures of a pair of down-trodden, cunning, yet inexplicably bound-by-unspoken-codes-of-honor sword fighting drifters. Its two main protagonists, Zelikman and Amram, become reluctant heroes when they are unexpectedly conscripted into the service of overthrowing the despotic king of the Khazar Empire and restoring it to its rightful ruler.

Where Chabon succeeds with this book is in creating a rollicking buddy adventure, one that recalls Don Quixote and the Three Musketeers. Gentlemen of the Road is a whimsical narrative packed with descriptively drawn characters, lyrically rendered landscapes and compulsively readable chapters replete with cliffhanging endings (the book originally appeared as Jews with Swords, a 15 part weekly serialization in The NY Times Magazine). However, the novel barely dips below its surface action and, with little psychological exploration or insight, lacks the deeper substance of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. In addition, Chabon’s imagery has a tendency to become muddled, bogged down by his gusto for spinning sentences chock-full of antiquated words that will be unfamiliar to most readers. The book's pace also plays to a fault, with Chabon laying little inroad to the background history necessary to truly form a picture of the world he is attempting to describe.

Overall, Gentlemen of the Road is light fare (something to digest on a plane or at the beach) served up by one of our finest novelists.

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