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Book Review

‘Telegraph Avenue’


Courtesy of Beaverdale Books
Review by Catherine Rihm
Harper Collins
September 2012
$ 27.99
480 p

Astride Telegraph Avenue, amid the weaving borders of Oakland and Berkeley, sits Brokeland Records. The used-vinyl store is owned by bandmates and best friends Archy and Nat. Archy is a “mountainous” and “moderately stoned” sweet-hearted African-American man. Nat is white, Jewish and grumbly. As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, they learn that Gordon Goode, “the fifth richest black man in American,” is planning to open Dogpile Thang in the neighborhood with a vast record collection.                

As Brokeland Records faces extinction, Nat rounds up support against Goode and Chan Flowers, the influential councilman and longtime Brokeland traitor. Archy, mired by the thought of losing the store, is approached by Goode and Flowers, who encourage him to jump ship and join Dogpile Thang. With the sudden appearance of his since-neglected teenage son, Titus, and a baby on the way, Archy considers the idea for more secure employment.                

Meanwhile, Archy and Nat’s wives, who are also best friends and business partners as Berkeley midwives, face their own issues after a botched homebirth threatens their practice. The reappearance of Archy’s abandoning father, Luther, along with revelations of Archy’s infidelities does little to calm the waters. As Luther lurks, dredging up a sordid past involving Flowers, Titus struggles with finding a way he can exist in Archy’s life.                

After a five-year stretch, Pulitzer Prize winning Chabon is back with a beautiful, funny and moving novel. Each sentence is wonderfully crafted and poetic, describing each character so roundly and perfectly. With tenderness, he movingly describes the heartache of tested friendships, threatened love and broken dreams. With warmth and sympathy, he portrays the characters’ familiar world as it breaks and changes “on the streets of the minor kingdom of Brokeland, Calif.” CV

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