Illustration ©2018 Chris Samnee from The Folio Society edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
It is 1939. Forced to live together in a small New York apartment, two young men, Samuel Clay and Joseph Kavalier bond over their shared interest in comic books and cartoon art. Together, they create ‘The Escapist’, a Nazi fighting Superhero who journeys across the world to fight for the oppressed.
Right from the title, Michael Chabon’s episodic story of these two comic book creators flips the traditional narrative, focusing on the two creatives behind the comic book storyline rather than the comic book itself. This decision enables Chabon to explore the difficult world of the creative artist (writer and/or illustrator) as they try to make a living from their work in the war-torn world of the mid twentieth century.
This twenty-first century perspective on the past brings with it a variety of touches that might never have been dwelt on by a contemporary novelist of the time. Chabon’s exploration of the period and the ‘amazing’ lives of his characters, feels new and historical at the same time. His welding of Jewish mysticism into 1940s America is particularly fresh and well researched, with Kavalier’s escape from Prague involving a Golem straight out of Jewish folklore. This theme of animation is constant throughout the novel as characters serve as catalysts to each other and to certain elements of the plot.
The Folio Society’s slipcase edition of Amazing Adventures is a beautiful rendition, utilizing the imagined scenes of the comic book adventures to illustrate the text. In a sense, we have a window into the mind of the fictional creators, told by another creator, Chabon himself. There is an autobiographical quality to this that remains timeless, as artists of any generation will attest, the danger of undervaluing your work is a constant one.
It is this flipped theme that gives the story an appeal to genre fans and literary fans alike. The trappings of a genre novel and a comic book are right there, embedded into Chabon’s prose as he describes the artwork and they are further enhanced by the gorgeous full-colour illustrations included in the Folio Society hardback.
Chabon also uses the novel’s historical premise to explore other themes, notably Sam Clay’s sexuality. This is a theme Chabon has explored before, but he handles each exploration in a different and sensitive way. Clay’s relationship with Tracy Bacon, the voiceover artist who brings The Escapist to life, is a beautiful sweep midway through the novel, making Sam confront his own desire, celebrate it, consummate it and ultimately, cast it away, as the repressive culture of the time reasserts its influence over him.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is an excellent compendium of stories. When first published, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001. This edition, from the Folio Society, uses its full-colour illustrations to breathe new life into Chabon’s work and is a fine way for first time readers to discover such a beautiful blend of historical fiction, myth and genre elements. This edition is a rich, complex and serious story, woven in such a way to appeal to a variety of audiences. Open the cover and be prepared to be swept away.
The Folio Society edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, illustrated by Chris Samnee and introduced by Michael Moorcock, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com
Written on 6th December 2018 by Allen Stroud.
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