The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
Random House, September 19, 2000
Seven years after reading the final impassioned sentence, the restorative impact of the novel hits me in the head like a brick lobbed over the expanse of time. WAP! BAM! BOOM! A deeper connection to the import of partnership emerges, and the shame resulting from the fact that I almost never read the book at all jolts my mind into a state of solemn rumination: Forces, in all shapes and sizes, joining together are essential to the survival of the human race.
At the heart of the collision beats the American Dream. Cousins unite across the ocean—one, Josef “Joe” Kavalier, through a magnificent feat of trickery, travels from Prague to New York, in the mighty U.S. of A., to meet the other, Sam Clay (born Klayman)—against the backdrop of WWII, where they combine talents—Joe the artist and Sam the writer—to launch a successful comic book empire. Two last names, once separate, compound into a recognizable one with the use of an ampersand and an animated dose of imagination. The rest, as they say, is history. Joe’s passage in pursuit of freedom and opportunity is evidence of the triumph of our nation, as well as the heartache integral to the process.
As a kid, I certainly believed anything was possible. Jumping into cold waters, eager to dive into deliquescent nirvana where, submerged, sounds muffled, I drowned my inner-most fears, and unexplained miracles kept my hidden body buoyant without a second thought about discomfort or the moment to resurface for air. On land, I floated through a universe unencumbered by limitation. Days passed “thinking big” about how I would make something of myself as an author, outnumbering those spent on yellow buses transporting me to and from school to learn proper grammar. Hope never yielded to summer vacations. My burgeoning ambition, however, lacked an added punch. Without a boost, I was adrift—alone.
Thus, a youthful scheme was born. I partnered with my best friend in junior high to commence writing a novel. We were a team. Days and nights passed with pen in hand, creating. Eric was the book’s title, a genre tale about a murderous teen. Before the tome’s completion, unfortunately, in a case of bad timing at its worst, we were overcome by encouragement to grow up and get serious. In order develop into someone able to make a difference, seemed the mantra, adolescence must be cast aside. Eric befell victim to the pessimism of adulthood, as more expansive waters skimmed both our horizons.
Our efforts were relegated to trash, and we laughingly scattered hundreds of completed pages in an act of careless abandon across a busy road on our childhood terrain. Sheet upon sheet drifted away. Some whooshed in the air by passing cars; others settled into neighboring bushes, mulch for the earth. The pulp was light as the perceived subject matter contained thereon but leaden with earnestness tossed to the wind.
Grow up, we did. The alliance suffered its next big kink, when we attended universities in states on nearly opposite ends of the continent. Left to solo careers, we studied the classics and discussed serious art, sometimes reminiscing about our silly attempt at authorship together. Our output as writers was scattershot, and my tastes became so refined and cynical into my twenties that I shut myself off to exploring anything judged puerile, including the ability to fulfill lifelong desires. The music, films and literature I sought skewed heavily toward the serious; kiddy material was long ago torn to pieces by lawnmowers, shredding notebook pages stilled under sidewalk shrubbery, and tires, flattening the road kill of teenage musings, on that day our feral beast was unleashed.
Change loomed in the future. Well into my naively grown-up phase, I learned about a work of fiction, hailed in literary circles. It had something to do with comic books. Even while a teen, I did not pay any mind to the funnies, so the novel was easily dismissed as a pass, given my refined tastes. Were it not for a book club in which I participated, I probably would never have picked up one of the most sumptuous adventures bound for consumption. Surprisingly, in the text, the author called me out on the arrogance of looking down upon his beloved topic, in turn, shedding light on the nescient spirit of Eric:
Although all the world—even Sammy Clay, who had spent most of his adult life making and selling them—viewed them as trash, Joe loved his comic books: for their inferior color separation, their poorly trimmed paper stock, their ads for air rifles and dance courses and acne creams, for the basement smell that clung to the older ones, the ones that had been in storage during Joe’s travels. Most of all, he loved them for the pictures and stories they contained, the inspirations and lucubrations of five hundred aging boys dreaming as hard as they could for fifteen years, transfiguring their insecurities and delusions, their wishes and their doubts, their public educations and their sexual perversions into something that only the must purblind of societies would have denied the status of art.
Optimism, a word long shunned, was welcomed back into my vocabulary. Belief and respect for the American Dream was renewed, and the liberation from conventional thinking was invigorating. A novel about comic books could be honored, especially when the scope extends past base classification. I also conceded that disillusionment stood in the way of personal accomplishment.
The core uniting elements in this modern classic are aplenty, but the one that sprung off the page, walloping me in the head, is that I am, once again, partnered with my junior high school buddy in the written word. He is a contributor to these pages and was instrumental in enlisting a group of writers to maximize the team effort for a brand new coalition. Our mission: to wipe out the evils of despondency, keeping individual dreams alive and maybe—just maybe—for the greater good of all mankind. We are suited up, in disguise, lurking and prepared for rescue.