Am Reading: Telegraph Avenue.
I comfort read, when I feel like my life isn’t performing at peak proficiency. So, although I started Telegraph Avenue weeks ago, I paused to devour a couple of terrible books, books that required no emotional investment and very little attention. They’re as satisfying as a snack cake, and linger much less.
I picked Telegraph Avenue up again today. This is the kind of book I’d never be able to watch if it were a movie: from page one you know that everyone is slowly sauntering towards ruin. And they know it, too. Every character can see the inevitable in front of them, and they are struggling to bear up, to not be completely beatdown by it. I’m reading and literally grasping at the funny or joyful moments as they appear, storing them up against the ending.
Midway through the book, Archy is in an awkward interview with Councilman Chan Flowers in Flowers’ funeral home. Flowers is a big figure in the neighborhood — his nephews are hired muscle outside, with guns on their hips. Archy’s life is slowly imploding: he has been caught cheating by his very pregnant wife, his deadbeat father is around again, his hitherto forgotten about son has appeared (and this isn’t helping his marriage), his actual father figure died in a senseless accident involving a hammond organ, and this meeting isprobably not going to help matters any:
He fought the armchair, resisting its invitation to conform his frame to its armature of grief. Grief was itself a kind of chair, wide and forgiving, that might enfold you softly in its wings and then devour you, keep you like a pocketful of loose change.
Grief as an armchair is a bit of an awkward analogy, but a resonating one for me. Grief keeping you in its pocket like loose change is such a striking way the describe the feeling of it hovering, waiting, all the time.
It’s lovely, though. Michael Chabon is such an amazing writer. It’s engrossing in the way good books can be, where you read for hours and are disorientated when you come up for air, still feeling what those characters feel, see what they see. Their worries become your own and it takes a bit for everything to settle back, for you to realize that their upcoming heartbreak isn’t actually yours.