Audiobook review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Narrated by David Colacci for Brilliance Audio

Length: 26 hrs and 20 mins

Release Date: 06-12-12 

Review by Dave Thompson: “Why don’t you figure out where we’re going to put all your goddamn comic books!”

This is going to be something of a departure from the other reviews I’ve done here, and I hope you all will indulge me. 

Memory is a funny thing. I first read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay when it came out in hardback. I was studying English in college, and for whatever reason, despite my love of comic books and science fiction and fantasy, I had started to feel like escapism was a dirty word. But I was at a local Borders Bookstore, and I saw the cover of a masked hero punching Hitler in the jaw, and I was in love before I even read the description on the dust-jacket: With Hitler in power in Germany, a Jewish immigrant and his American cousin begin creating WWII propaganda in the form of their comic book hero The Escapist.

I knew right then this book was going to be an incredible. And it was. I bought it, read it, loved it. Characters, scenes, and events have stayed with me ever since.

When I saw it was coming out in audio – finally, fully unabridged from Audible, I was filled with a sense of nostalgia. I wanted to revisit Sammy, Joe, Rosa, Kornblum, George Deasey, Tracy Bacon, and Thomas. I expected it to be like revisiting revisiting friends. I expected to appreciate it, and be moved by it. It’d be a good time. 

But listening to this book stunned me. I think it’s maybe one of the best books I’ve ever read. The story and the characters themselves are such a perfect and pure meditation on escapism. Chabon’s prose is delightful – perfectly setting the scenes better than any number of splash pages could. And the story and the characters themselves are a perfect and pure meditation on escapism. I don’t want to take anything away from Chabon, but David Colacci’s narration has to be singled out. It’s nothing short of fantastic. He does accents and dialects from Prague to Brooklyn and so much in between, perfectly voicing each character. From Joe’s self-destructive need for violence and revenge (that section in Antartica is as bleak as anything in Carpenter’s The Thing) to Sammy’s love and desire for someone the world won’t allow him – all of it is expertly captured by Colacci’s reading. I’d also forgotten how funny it was. I was laughing aloud at quips like, “Why don’t you figure out where we’re going to put all your goddamn comic books!” I haven’t listened to anything else Colacci’s read, but I’ll keep an ear out for him from now on. The way he read Tracy Bacon and Rosa, and their relationships with Sammy and Joe was incredibly impacting.

One of the scene’s that’s stayed with me so vividly is relatively early on: Sammy and Joe get their first big break, and shut themselves in with for a week to create comic books. That scene was like crack for creative people. I remember reading it 10+ years ago and falling madly in love with it. Wanting to create things like that – the way they did. And hearing that section again was like getting another fix of the really good stuff.

But the funny thing is the stuff that I didn’t remember: the whole rest of the book? It’s kind of like that too. This book is an ode to art and creativity and escapism unlike anything else. Here, escapism is no less important or necessary than love, and Chabon sketches it out like an artist, showing us all the shades of excitement and sexiness, hurt and heartbreak, and the pure need we, as humans, have for it.

Because if you can’t escape, you’re trapped. Maybe not in chains over a glass aquarium with a shark swimming below with some strangely dressed supervillain cackling, but in our bodies, in our lives, and in our world.

Near the end of the book, Sammy’s examining another character’s art work, and you can feel him just swept up in awe of what he’s looking at. And he says, “It makes me want to make something again. Something I can be just a little bit proud of.”

That about sums it all up for me. Listening to this book made me laugh, got me all choked up, sure. But most of all, it left me wanting to create art for as long as possible.


Dave Thompson is the host and co-editor of PodCastle, the fantasy fiction audio magazine. His own fiction has been published by Bull Spec and Apex Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @krylyr. This fall, look for his narration of Tim Pratt’s Briarpatch.

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One Response to Audiobook review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

  1. Pingback: Heroes of a Golden Age: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Audio) | Bay State Reader's Advisory

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