Thursday, November 15, 2007

S'up, Yid?

This fall is catch up on all of my favorite contemporary authors season and the first on the chopping block was Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. I've been a fan of his since Mysteries of Pittsburgh, but I haven't read his YA novel, Summerland or the Sherlock Holmes story The Final Solution. In The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Chabon imagines a world that had post-World War II Jews settling in a chunk of Alaska lent to them by the U.S. government. Chabon uses the contemporary setting of Sitka, Alaska for a hard-boiled murder mystery complete with tough guy detectives in fedoras and plenty of Chandleresque diction.

I love the alternate world Chabon created here. Sitka has a history complete with neighborhoods and architecture and cultish religious sects. The hard-boiled language plucked my nerves a bit in the beginning, like he was trying too hard to fashion this realistic noir world in an alternate history. He mentions hot water tanks that are bound together by straps of steel "like comrades in a doomed adventure," and our hero, Meyer Landsman, "tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket" when working on a case. Either the noir-like metaphors were toned down as the novel wore on, or I just got used to them. Of course, Chabon knows his stuff, so many of the similes hit home like a dart piercing the smoke of an English pub and stiffening at the center of the board.

It comes down to the fact that Chabon weaves a good story, as usual. The artifice of the setting and the tough guy language are part of the fabric that make the whole suit real.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Latest Listening

I first got tuned in to Bill Frisell when he released the Gone, Just Like a Train album. I read a review somewhere, picked it up and I was hooked. I've taken in his live show three times now at the Ramshead in Annapolis, but had to miss his recent stop in Baltimore at An Die Musik with Greg Leisz and Jenny Scheinman. Floratone is his latest studio project, a collaboration with drummer Matt Chamberlain and producer/engineers Tucker Martine and Lee Townshend. It has that unmistakable Bill Frisell guitar tone, lots of bluesy grooves and looping that creates a swampy, futuristic sound.

They've put together a cool video about them getting together to make the album.