Top of the Pops

Telegraph Avenue
Michael Chabon
Harper, $27.99, 480 pp.

Novelist Michael Chabon is a devoted trafficker in pop-culture artifacts. From his earliest fiction, he has wielded his fluency in the ephemera of (mostly) American entertainments to animate the small universes his characters inhabit. In the same way John Updike once used A&Ps, kitchen gadgets, and Toyota dealerships to demarcate his swath of latter-twentieth-century America, Chabon employs the found objects of late-night infomercials, Hollywood marginalia, comic books, and pulp-fiction paperbacks to stake out his territory. In his newest work, Telegraph Avenue, vintage vinyl recordings, jazz and blues music, and 1970s film and TV serve this function—only to a far greater degree and with much greater purpose than before. More than mere markers, these blessed relics of an increasingly distant past hold the weight of unimpeachable truth for characters confused by the present.

Telegraph Avenue tells the story of two closely linked families living in the Oakland-Berkeley borderland of 2004, where commercialization and gentrification are combining not only to threaten the modest livelihoods of the principals, but also to stoke self-doubt and regret over the choices they’ve made. The “moonfaced and mountainous” Archy Stallings is an African-American Gulf War veteran and half-owner of Brokeland Records, a reseller of rare albums threatened by the impending arrival of a music megastore. His partner in this...

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About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.