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.

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