Reflections on Escape, Hiding and Emergence : A Review of The Amazing Aventures of Kavalier & Clay

I’m always reluctant to say things like the following because in a matter of time it is entirely possible that my views will change as I continue to read more and more throughout my life, cherishing any number of novels I come across, but, for the time being: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is tied with Les Misérables as the greatest novel I have ever read.

Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize Winning novel is, since no other word is as wonderfully fitting, a masterpiece.  When I first heard of this book a couple years ago, it was after creating my first (and so far only) bucket list item: to read every Pulitzer Prize-Winning work of fiction.  I shake my head now, in bewilderment and a guttural sense of shame, that I didn’t start reading it immediately.  While I’m not Jewish and wasn’t born in the roaring 20s, this novel encapsulates so perfectly the aura I felt growing up and still have to this day: to remain young, eager and always bubbling with the ambition to create art, specifically comic books.  It is everything I am and think of every day; the novel is me.  But being young, fearless, ambitious and perhaps a bit (or a lot) stubborn is only talking about the surface-synopsis of this 600+ page work.

Chabon manages to intertwine the historical realness of the Golden Age of comics with the fictional lives of these characters, making it a relatable, touching and believable tale.  You feel the heartache these kids go through, the struggles they face, the ire they feel boiling inside them and, last but not least, their uncertainty with their lives as a whole.  Reading this novel made me simultaneously wish I could tumble into love by way of windowsill and my very own Rosa Saks sleeping in the morning sun, but also avoid such inevitable tragedies that love seems to bring forth upon it’s always unsuspecting recipients.

Kavalier & Clay is, above all, really a novel about relationships; the ones we have with our families, our friends, our significant others, but most importantly and most frightening of all, the ones we have with ourselves.  It’s about hiding from these other people, when really we’re hiding from ourselves; it’s about hunting, superfluously, for things we know are lost or dead, or maybe just simulacrums or fabrications of things and we can only find them in the parts of us that we keep hidden.  How fitting then, that the meta-fictional comic character created by Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay is called the Escapist.  Escaping from the locks and chains of tyranny or the cages and manacles of life? I guess, really, they are one in the same.

I read this novel, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, with an aching sense of longing and nostalgia that I routinely try to keep suppressed.  It felt odd to mingle my own thoughts, conflicts and worries about everyday life with the struggles of these characters, kind of opening up in my own literary way, just by musing as I read along with the novel’s plot.  It hurt to think of how closely related I find myself to some of these situations but relieved of how different I am at the same time.

The greatest works we will ever read are the ones that never end.  The ink may stop and the words will cease, but the story and the feeling stays.  This book resonated with me to such a degree that for many years to come I know will be thinking of handsome and tragic Joe Kavalier, closeted but charming Sammy Clay and the bohemian and lustrous Rosa Saks when I find myself hiding, concealing, escaping and even returning to the quandaries and conflicts of my everyday life.

-B.W. Gladney


9 thoughts on “Reflections on Escape, Hiding and Emergence : A Review of The Amazing Aventures of Kavalier & Clay

  1. Like you, I love reading Pulitzer prize winning novels.
    This novel you mention and your review of it sound fascinating. Do you think it would appeal to someone like me, who loves a good book, but who is also, um, quite a bit older than you?

  2. It’s a while since I read this but I remember being entranced. And Brent’s completely right – it might be a book about comic book writers but that’s just scratching the surface.

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