The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Copyright 2000. Action and Adventure. ISBN 9781841154930.

amazing adventures of kavalier and clay

Story:

19-year-old escape artist Joe Kavalier flees World War II Prague in 1939 and ends up at the house of his cousin, Sammy Klayman, in New York. Sammy is a writer for a novelty company that’s trying to break into comics after observing the success of Superman.

When Sammy finds out about Joe’s incredible drawing talent, he quickly gets Joe a job illustrating for the company he works for. It’s not too long before Sammy takes the name Sam Clay and begins writing the plots for a series of comic books, to be illustrated by Joe. So begins the adventures of their trademark superhero, The Escapist, and the incredible story of the men behind the pages.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay deals with discovering your identity, finding acceptance, life in the comic book industry, life in the war, and the peaks and trenches of life in the real world. Neither fast-paced nor slow, it takes you through the myriad storylines with ease, showing you not only what happens to the main characters, but the effect they have on the events surrounding them.

Technique:

Kavalier & Clay is written in alternating third-person perspective, mostly focusing on the quiet and enigmatic Joe Kavalier and the inspired and aspiring writer Sam Clay, and the story spans out over the timeline of the Golden Age of Comics (from Superman to the Kefauver Senate Hearings). This makes it a bit confusing, as it can be hard to tell whether a few hours have passed between transitions, or a few years.

Style:

Michael Chabon has a very elegant, flowing writing style that moves from reverent to satirical, from vulgar to artfully coy, with minimal bumpiness (although this sometimes results in long, hard-to-follow sentences). He makes liberal use of clever diction and subtle (and not-so-subtle) jokes throughout the text, bringing each character to life in their own way. His insight into the comic books industry is also fascinating, and not to be missed if you’re interested in that subject at all.

Chabon sets up the scenes skillfully, painting New York evenings so real you almost think you can smell the hot peanuts, or hear the subway underfoot.

Characters:

One of the things that make Chabon’s writing great is his characterization abilities. All of his characters, even the often-overlooked side characters, have depth and distinct personalities.

Sam Clay is somewhat idealistic, opportunistic, and uncertain, dealing with several issues about who he is and what he’s doing. He is loyal to his cousin, a creative visionary, and determined to be successful. During the course of the book, his strengths and weaknesses are tested continually, forcing him to realize parts of himself and decide what’s worth holding on to.

Joe Kavalier is the quiet, thoughtful, tortured artist, illustrator of Kavalier and Clay’s The Escapist, talented in sleight-of-hand and literal and figurative escapism. In a constant state of worry for his family left behind in Prague, he is attracted to the sense of justice provided by his and Clay’s brainchild, but doesn’t know how to pursue it in a healthy manner. He finds a comforting muse in the bohemian Rosa Saks, and she in him, and together they attempt to control their inner demons.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a story with a fascinating perspective on the personal and societal implications of the Golden Age of comics, and repeatedly asks the ages-old question, “What is a hero?” 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

Purchase it from Amazon, Barnes&Noble.

A Collection of Helpful Writing Articles and Tools

In the interim between reviews, every now and then I’d like to point out some excellent articles and tools I’ve come across around the web that deal with the many aspects of writing. As an English major and a novelist, I always want to assist and encourage other writers at whatever stage of writing.

Revising:

How will I know if I’m making it better, not worse?

When do you stop revising?

Scene Composition:

Things A Scene Needs

Dialogue:

Dialogue Writing Tips

Writing Believable Dialogue

Tools:

Character Survey

“The Mother Of All Character Questionnaires” (No, really. There are roughly 18.5 billion questions here.)

Fantasy World-building Questions (This is one of the most useful resources I’ve come across for fantasy writers. It asks questions about everything from religion and politics to trade and style of dress. Very exhaustive. Be prepared to set aside a few days to go through and answer it all. Also, check out Patrick Rothfuss’s advice on worldbuilding.)

50 British Insults (Beware this one at work, music automatically plays on this site.)

Kitten Motivation (I.e. this site gives you a fresh picture of a kitten for every hundred words you write.)

Write or Die (For those of you who are a little too hard-core for kittens [admit it, you only act tough], Write or Die has more serious consequences for those who don’t write fast enough.)

Write World’s Toolbox (A lovely conglomeration of tools and helpful articles on all sorts of aspects of writing: from plot to theme to editing, and a billion things in between.)

And finally, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve read about writing in a long time: “Treat all your secondary characters like they think the book’s about them.” -Jocelyn Hughes

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Copyright 2012. Young Adult Literature. ISBN 978-0-525-47881-2.

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Story:

Hazel Grace Lancaster has Stage 4 Thyroid cancer. She is constantly connected to an oxygen tank, takes all sorts of medication, and at any moment her condition could take a turn for the worse. As you can imagine, her life isn’t all that great.

Then Hazel meets Augustus Waters, an amputee victim of osteosarcoma, currently in remission. The two quickly find each other fascinating, as they live life in a way that only they can.

The Fault In Our Stars offers a frank look into what life is like when you know you could die at any moment. John Green does a good job making it believable—it doesn’t take long to get into Hazel’s head and grasp how she sees the world. It’s a straight-forward shot into expectations and irreverent existentialism.

Technique:

The Fault in Our Stars is a character-driven, slice-of-life type of story. It’s dependent on the personality of Hazel, our point-of-view character, and how she sees the world.

Style:

John Green writes for teenagers. He has a well-developed, recognizable, and easily-read written voice, with one criticism being that he perhaps lets his own style of speaking project onto his characters. 16-ish Hazel and Augustus were just a little too eloquent.

Characters:

Hazel Grace Lancaster (known as Hazel Grace to Augustus) is the first-person narrator of The Fault in Our Stars. She’s irreverent, in many ways mature for her age, and tries to be sensitive of the effect that she has on the people around her (although she sometimes relapses on this point). However, although she comments that she doesn’t want her entire personality to be taken up by the fact that she has cancer, it nearly is. The only other major counterweights to it are her adoration of Augustus and the fact the she loves a book titled An Imperial Affliction. Her character is not particularly deep, which is a flaw in a character-driven book.

Augustus Waters (Gus) is the attractive ex-basketball player Hazel meets in her cancer support group. He’s a bit verbose, self-aggrandizing, thoughtful, and very hot (according to Hazel). His greatest fear is that he’ll die for nothing, or his death will be wasted. Augustus tends to be quite outspoken, but to the point where he comes off as cocky. Although other characters comment on it, it can become a bit tedious to read after a while.

Both characters seem to be defined by only one or two major traits. For side characters, this is usually not too big of a problem, but as Hazel and Augustus are the main characters in a character-driven book, it can feel a little flat at parts. In fact, it’s the side characters that spice things up: Isaac, a friend of Augustus who lost his sight to cancer, and Peter van Houten, the enigmatic author of An Imperial Affliction.

All in all, The Fault in Our Stars gets 3.5 out of 5 stars: A different perspective on a familiar subject, interesting, but not exactly gripping.

If you’ve read the book (and only if you’ve read the book, as many spoilers run free in the following link) and want to know more about the themes and ‘symbols’ that appear in The Fault in Our Stars, you can look at John Green’s FAQ on the subject. He offers a lot of insight and interesting explanations, it’s definitely worth a look.

Purchase it from Amazon, Barnes&Noble.