July 01, 2007

BOOKS: The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon (2007)

In Chabon's alternate version of history, a piece of what was still the Alaska Territory was designated as a refuge for European Jews; the District of Sitka took in even more people in 1948, with the (fictional) failure of the nation of Israel. The novel is set in the present, as Sitka is about to revert to Alaskan control and its Jewish population is to be dispersed throughout the world. Many people aren't sure where they're going, since so many countries are still reluctant to admit Jewish immigrants.

Against this backdrop, police inspector Meyer Landsman finds his life falling apart. He has no real plans for life after Reversion; he's separated from his wife and living in a fleabag motel; he and his partner (who is also his cousin) have the highest rate of unsolved murders on the force. And now a bum has been found murdered in Landsman's hotel, the only clue to his identity his book of chess puzzles.

The setup is terrific, and Chabon's Sitka is a beautifully detailed creation. But around the midpoint of the book, the answers to the murder mystery begin to be revealed, and they just aren't that interesting. The last third of the book is heavy slogging indeed; the novel, which had gotten off to such a fine start, winds up a serious disappointment.


franQ said...

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

Keith said...

I haven't read Mysteries of Pittsburgh (or if I did, it was so long ago that I have no memory of it), but I am rarely bothered by changes between a book and a movie; they are different art forms with different narrative demands.

And no matter what the filmmakers may do, the book still exists, and its fans can return to it as often as they like for the "pure" version of the story.