The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
HarperCollins, $26.95, 432 pp.
Michael Chabon is an all-out, full-throttle writer, audaciously ambitious in matters stylistic, thematic, and moral. His early stories and novels-densely realistic and blackly funny fiction set in a contemporary culture consumed by questions of sexual identity-began appearing in the late 1980s. By 2000, he had published his Pulitzer Prize-winning third novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a joyride through the world of 1940s Jewish comic-book artists, and a big book in all senses of the word. Chabon’s subsequent work continues to pair his interest in popular culture with his exploration of the twentieth century’s dark history. As guest editor of a controversial 2002 issue of McSweeney’s, he wrote a manifesto celebrating old-fashioned genre-driven plot, and followed that up with The Final Solution, a short novel that resurrects an aged Sherlock Holmes to solve a post-Holocaust mystery.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union also addresses the lasting effects of the Holocaust. Its darkly exuberant use of alternative history recalls Philip Roth’s recent The Plot against America; and it’s no accident that two significant alternative histories of the Holocaust have appeared in such close proximity. Roth and Chabon both suggest that we have exhausted our capacity to imagine the Holocaust’s realities, and that a more fruitful moral exercise might be to imagine what else might have happened, and what might happen...