Tuesday, July 17, 2012

II. The Church of Vinyl (Telegraph Avenue Read Along)

I really came down right the wire on this one. It's 10:36 Monday evening - exactly 6 minutes past my normal bedtime and I only just finished. Don't get me wrong - the book is still very good, but also - it's kind of like exercising. I just don't want to do it, but I guess in the end it's rewarding?

II. The Church of Vinyl
"Councilman, you made me realize, thank you, but me and Mr. Jones and Nat Jaffe and our kind of people, we already got a church of our own. You, too, seemed like at one time, up to not too long ago, a member in good standing. And that church is the church of vinyl." 
"...our kind of people..."  - the most interesting line in the quote above. Knowing that Nat is white (finally, officially verified on page 189. Almost 200 freaking pages of confusion on the color of one character's skin) and Archy is black. Our kind of people - the kind that can't live without, can't express who they are without music. Color blind.

I found this section more tedious than the first. My expectation of diving into the conflict and actually getting to know and love the characters fell a little flat. It seemed to be just a continuation of Dream of Cream.

What irritates me the most is Chabon's circular approach to each piece of the story. He drops you in the middle of a situation, teasingly alludes to the point, taunts you with your lack of understanding for a while, before circling back to the beginning and affording the reader some clarity. This approach is not necessarily bad. It's more the abundance of it - the unceasing rhythm. It's like... when a writer doesn't vary their sentence structure and the prose becomes sing-songy and strange, too much of the same.

(By the way, you can join the rest of the read along discussion here, and if you're interested in pre-ordering this not yet released book, go here!)

Some Random Observations (Contains Spoilers!)

- When Nat admits to Archy that he always tacks on an extra thirty-seven minutes for all black people - I laughed so hard. I had a good friend in college, black, who - whenever we discussed what time we had to be at a party or a class, he would ask me, "Is that in CP time?"

- Why is Archy cheating such a non-issue? I know that, by the end of this section, he sort of gets his. But the actual act of him cheating is never addressed. And that bothers me. A lot.

- The insertion of Obama into the narrative was jarring and strange. It took me right out of the story. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, that's a pretty huge choice, to include a "historical" figure that is still in the process of making history. The only thing that I can think of is that - going with the obsolete American Dream theme of the first part - Obama represents the opposite of that? He says to Gwen, "I have seen a lot of people, met a lot of people. The lucky ones are the people like your husband there. The ones who find work that means something to them. That they can really put their heart into, however foolish it might look to other people." I know the point of his campaign was hope, but I kind of forgot how heavily he leaned on the rediscovery of every-man's dream.

- I very deeply related to Aviva in this line, "Only Aviva's long habit of taking the temperature of her own racism, of her biases and stereotypes..." I grew up in a town that was predominately white.  And so, when I went to college and actually made friends of color, I was so conscious of my own racism. That is to say - I am not racist. So instead of acting negatively prejudiced, I had a tendency to show a prejudice in the opposite direction. Acting nicer. Giving more. Forever checking myself to make sure - this isn't racist, right? It wasn't until a friend pointed out that what I was doing was ridiculous that I learned to stop.

- I very much enjoyed the allusion to the 2001 monolith. This Dogpile Thang is something that must come to pass.

- Gibson Goode tells Archy, "I'm not in it for the money." Is that better or worse? To destroy something just because you can?


  1. Yeah, I'm kind of way into the 'dropping you into the middle of a situation" thing. But I get that it could be grating after a while, like any device.

    Ah, CPT. An African-American woman at my office TOTES confirmed that to me. She doesn't do it, but most of her relatives do. Trying to figure out why that would be a thing....

    Also, totally agree about the Obama thing. It kind of felt like in a historical novel when they're like "And then Benjamin Franklin was there!" and you're like "...was this actually all that likely to have happened? I don't need famous people in it in order to get into this book."

  2. I'm totally not getting what the CP in CP time stands for. I get the concept, mind you, just not the acronym.

    like Alice, I rather like being dropped into a middle of a scene 'cause it makes me work a little harder(though not too hard) as a reader to connect the right dots. I wonder if that "circular approach" as you call it, has any basis in a particular kind of musical structure that Chabon is intentionally mirroring.

    1. It stands for Colored People Time. Kind of horrible, but that's what it's actually referred to as.

      Hmm... maybe. I guess it does have a kind of musical quality to it. The point of every song comes round in the refrain, I suppose.

  3. I found the Obama scene jarring as well, though I like your observation that it was so in large part because in walks a historical figure who is still in the process of making history. Maybe that makes me like it more than I originally had, I'm not sure.

    Also, love the first quote you pulled about "our people."

  4. I agree about the Obama cameo: Meh. Jarring indeed.
    As to Archy's infidelities, I think he was punished publically by Gwen in the restaurant, and that his cheating is a defining - and not at all endearing - character trait. So we as readers feel more ambivalent toward him and sympathetic toward Gwen, no? I guess I don't quite understand why you feel his conduct hasn't been addressed, so I'd like to know more.
    And I surmised, as did Emily, that Chabon's attempting linguistic jazz. He wouldn't be the first or last writer to try it, but the jury's still out on whether or not such a gambit can succeed.
    You and I had nearly opposite experiences of "Dream of Cream" and "The Church of Vinyl" overall. Here's hoping we'll converge with overwhelming admiration for Chabon's newest novel by the time we've finished "Return to Forever"!

    1. I think a lot of what I took - or didn't take - from this section was largely due to myself rather than the book. I traveled for half of this week, working 15+ hour days and so had to read in tiny chunks in order to get it done at all. We've already mentioned that this isn't the book to do that with. My notes were varied and frenzied.

      I guess - I mean, I know Gwen embarrassed him in the restaurant. And I know she's left. But that doesn't seem like a lot. Or enough. They don't talk about it - it's just sort of hanging there. Infidelity is a big deal, and I can tell you (from some experience) the betrayal rocks all of your emotions. This seems incredibly devoid of any of that. Anger, grieving, shame. Archy doesn't even get the chance to make excuses for his behavior. To me, it's more largely ignored than confronted.

  5. Obama took me out of the narrative, too. I didn't see the point of including him except to wink-wink at the reader. I wish Chabon hadn't done it!

  6. Add me to the list of people who didn't like the Obama cameo. It's too soon.

  7. I think Gwen hasn't really decided how she wants to deal with Archy's infidelity yet. She feels overwhelmed between her pregnancy, the impending lawsuit, and Mr. Jones' passing. But I think it will have repercussions throughout the book.

  8. Regarding the racial stereotypes that Chabon throws in, I find them interesting b/c he kind of acknowledges that stereotypes exist b/c they're somewhat true. This might sound random, but one of my favorite television shows, Scrubs, also played with race really well.


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