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Books: The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

It has probably not escaped your attention that, in recent days, defective yeti has been yammering on and on about comic books. It may surprise you to hear, then, that I don't actually read comics books -- not any more, at any rate. But as noted before, I love the idea of comic books, and love the four-color champions documented therein. And this superherophilia was recently brought to the fore by the excellent novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the newest book by Michael Chebon and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Having narrowly escaped Prague in 1939, Josef Kavalier teams up with his cousin Sam Clay in New York to fight Hitler in the only way he can: through the use of comic books. The two young men, capitalizing on the popularity of the then-novel "Superman," convince a local publisher to sponsor a monthly comic book entitled "The Escapist" which chronicles the adventures of a Harry Houdini-like hero who has sworn to "free those who languish in tyranny's chains!" Kavalier and Clay are content to fight (and defeat) the Axis each and every month for a while, but soon both the war and the comic book business take a turn for the worst. At the dissolution of their comic book partnertship the men strike out in their own directions, but they never forget the two-fisted tales that brought them together as a team.

Chebon (pronounced "SHAY-bon," I've discovered) writes exactly the kind of novel I like: a lyrical history of a few memorable characters on their voyage from youth to adulthood. (Not unlike another of my favorite authors, John Irving's, as exemplified by World According to Garp and Ciderhouse Rules). This style, combined with a subject matter I already adore, made this one of the best fiction books I've read in years. A very satisfying story, and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys comic books, the idea of comic books, or just a damned fine yarn.

Posted on May 06, 2002 to Books