Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Brief Thoughts on "The Yiddish Policemen's Union"

I’m not finished with it – about 2/3 of the way through – but I wanted to get some thoughts about “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” down on “paper” before they slipped into the nether regions of my mind.

I’ve had this book for a while now, so long that I can’t even remember if it was a birthday present or a Christmas present. But given that this is the year I’ve resolved to work my way through my backlog of unread books (a pledge doomed to fall by the wayside, given that it’s already February and I still haven’t finished a single book), Michael Chabon seemed as good a place to start as any.

The book takes place in one of Chabon’s alternate universes. In this particular universe, the state of Israel foundered shortly after being established, and an independent (but temporary) Jewish settlement was established in Sitka, Alaska. 60 years later, Sitka is about to return to U.S. control, meaning that many of the residents are about to shoved back into the diaspora. The main character of the book is one Meyer Landsman, a homicide detective with drinking problems, female problems, and a whole host of personal problems – in short, not unlike many of the classic hard-boiled detectives of the past. In the seedy hotel where Landsman lives, a murder has occurred, and from there the plot veers into unexpected territory. Very unexpected territory.

I think Chabon has said that this was his effort to try his hand at creating a classic, hard-boiled detective novel. On that score, I’d say that while this is a great book, it’s not a great detective novel – but I don’t mean that as criticism. Even before the plot began to take off, I was really enjoying it, because Chabon has few peers – John Irving, perhaps – at writing sentences that just jump off the page for the sheer brilliance of the writing. But about 100 pages in, the story begins to pick up steam, and the 20 or so pages I read last night (before the eyelids got heavy) – were absolutely enthralling – but really did very little to move the “detective story” forward. It didn’t matter.

This isn’t the last I’ll write about this book – heck, if it continues to gain momentum the way it has so far, the last 100 pages should be amazing.

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