Bee-ing and Nothingness

There’s a recent interview with Michael Chabon (the recent target of Ruth Frank’s condescension) online at the Onion AV Club.

I still haven’t read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but I did pick up one of his earlier books, The Final Solution, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in 1944. Actually, it just barely merits the title of “book”–it’s a novella, well under 38,000 words.

It is worth reading, though not as mind-blowing as Kavalier and Clay. Two things bothered me a little: Chabon was very coy about using Holmes’ name (in fact, he never does) while making it unambiguously clear that the aged-detective-turned-Sussex-beekeeper in question is Holmes. I can’t figure out any reason, literary or otherwise, why this made sense and it got annoying after a while. The other involved a parrot (a major character in the story) and the scenes from the parrot’s point of view. The parrot was totally anthropomorphized, thinking just like a human being, and this put me off from the story. In my mind’s eye, I wasn’t seeing a parrot but a man in a parrot suit, which made for a different sort of impact.

Still, it’s an intriguing little mystery set against the background of bigger harder-to-solve mysteries. Some of these deeper mysteries are horrible, like the Holocaust deliberately echoed in the novella’s title, and some aren’t, like the bonds between people and other people, between people and bees, between people and parrots (or people in parrot suits). I did enjoy it.

If I sound a little tepid in my recommendation of the book it may be a function of sticker-shock: this slim oversized paperback was $12.95 (US). I won’t bore you with the tales of my youth, when one could run down to the bookstore or maybe just a drugstore and pick up a new paperback for sixty cents, and when indulging in new writers and new genres and literary classics and what-have-you was considerably easier than it is today, because that would be unconscionable waste of the few fleeting moments I have before my ungrateful great-grandchildren come to haul me away to the Old Person’s Repurposing Center they’ve been talking about. I will say that it would have been welcome if the publisher and Chabon had rounded out the book with two or three more stories, perhaps with different genre spins.

They salve their abraded consciences by including 13 pages of magazine style fluff: a profile in which Chabon is described as “handsome, brilliant and successful” (at which point I began to hate him), and a list of his top ten “genre” writers (scare-quotes from the source). This list reconciled me to Chabon again: it includes Raymond Chandler, Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Leiber and Leigh Brackett, all of whom I rank pretty high as well.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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4 Responses to Bee-ing and Nothingness

  1. ecbatan says:

    The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is wonderful — best novel I’ve read from 2007 so far — but it’s not the best novel I’ve read IN 2007. That would be The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

    I enjoyed The Final Solution but felt it just that little bit slight.


    • JE says:

      I’ll have to catch up with Yiddish Policeman’s Union before summer ends. I think I want to read his Summerland, too, but I have this perverse feeling that I should do that some time when the weather is colder.

  2. Anonymous says:


    Hearing all this talk of the new Chabon release makes me a little sad…

    A year ago, I would have been thrilled and no doubt attended his book signing. He’s been my favorite author since I first read his debut novel THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH back in the early 90s.

    But I can no longer support the work of an author who has no regard for the story and characters that put him on the literary map.

    In case you haven’t heard, there’s a film version of MOP coming out later this year… Written and directed by the guy who brought us DODGEBALL, in which he’s CHANGED 85% of Chabon’s original story.

    And the sad part is… Michael Chabon himself APPROVED of the script! WHY would he do this? I can only think of one possible answer: $$

    If you are a Chabon fan, esp MOP, I suggest you do NOT see this movie. You will be sadly disappointed at the COMPLETE removal of the gay character, Arthur Lecomte, and the fabrication of a romantic love triangle between Art Bechstein, Jane Bellwether, and a bi-sexual Cleveland Arning. And really, what is MOP without the presence of Phlox Lombardi? Alas, she’s barely in it.

    For a copy of the script email: bechstein[at]yahoo[dot]com

    • JE says:

      Re: Chabon

      I’m not trying to tell you what authors to support, but I wouldn’t be too hard on Chabon for something a production company did with his book. There are all sorts of “approval” (e.g. “Well, this version is less wormy than the last version…”) and lots of ways of obtaining it, and a writer has minimal power in the movies, even if he’s the screenwriter (which MC apparently isn’t here).

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