I like Michael Chabon. I think he has a wonderful turn of phrase, and his writing as a rule is very evocative.
Unfortunately, I found it very hard to engage with this book. It's difficult to put my finger on any one thing, and I think it was a combination of factors.
* Too many characters that played too small a part - The book is a confusion of characters, many of which are introduced simply to give colour to a single scene. Of course when that happens it's not clear at first and you have to wait a while to realise they're not making a reappearance. The CHOCHISE meeting about 3/4 of the way through the book is a prime example of this.
* Unclear characterisation forced me to re-evaluate the characters too often - As a reader I draw certain conclusions from the actions of characters. When these conclusions are contradicted later on it becomes confusing. Why did they act the way they did if that's the sort of person they are?
* Unclear character descriptions - This was a minor one, but it happened a couple of times, and it pulled me right out of the story. I'd built a picture of a character in my head, then some new piece of information (eg. hair colour, in the case of Cochise) is introduced relatively late in the book, forcing me to revise my mental image, and throwing the whole plot into confusion as I now have 2 character images for the same character - one of which has performed the actions in the first half of the book, and one which will hold from now on.
* Not enough story - At some point beautiful prose just isn't enough, and at the end of the day I didn't feel there was enough actual story to warrant a book of this length.
* Too many references - To everything! From Star Trek to Jazz. I doubt anybody got all the references in the book. It's OK that a book assumes specific knowledge on the part of the reader (eg. Hornby's High Fidelity
), but when you spread the subjects about which specialist knowledge is required this thin, you're left with a very small percentage of the population that will "get" everything. It just left me feeling like an outsider, rather than feeling involved in the story and the characters (and I got a reasonably high proportion of the references, I think. I wonder how folks that understood fewer felt?)
To sum up: not a bad book, just not his best work, and - for me - too much like hard work to read. I will put the time and effort in to read difficult books (eg. Eco's Foucault's Pendulum
is well worth the effort - one of my favourite books!) but for this one it was too much work for too little reward. Sorry Mr. Chabon. I hope to see a return to form next time!