Michael Chabon and the Many Genres

Posted on April 30, 2007

Michael Chabon discusses his new book, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, a novel which imagines what would have happened had a real proposal to relocate persecuted World War II Jews to Alaska had actually happened. Chabon is a master of genre-bending, and is one of the few authors that gets away with it while still having his work marketed as general fiction at the major chains.
"I get excited by the idea of blurring the boundaries between different kinds of fiction," said Chabon, interviewed recently in his sunny backyard in a quiet corner of Berkeley. The result seems to be a kind of literary fusion cuisine, taking forms and genres "usually kept pretty rigidly separate and letting them bleed together and see what happens."


"After The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, I thought it would be hard to ever top that," said Jennifer Barth, an executive editor and vice president of HarperCollins. "But this book stands on its own as an equally imaginative and exciting and also moving story."

The police officer in Policemen's Union, is Meyer Landsman, a detective who gets an unexpected case when one of the residents of the rundown hotel where he lives is found shot to death. Landsman, in the best tradition of hard-boiled, hard-luck heroes, is a mess. Chabon telegraphs a lot with a little when he has Landsman pick up "the shot glass that he is currently dating," as the book opens. Landsman must find out whodunit (and, for that matter, who was done) as well as why - a question that leads to some seriously weird characters and the surreal world of messianic politics.

The dogged quest to uncover the true identity of the dead man, a former chess prodigy, unfolds in classic noir tradition, a familiar form that helps lead the reader into Chabon's imagined land of the Federal District of Sitka. "One of the reasons that I chose to work in the form of the detective novel is so that it would afford me the opportunity to explore and explain the world that we were moving in, to investigate it, literally, so that a reader that didn't know anything about it would be able to find out along with the main character," he said.
We always enjoy Michael's work and his latest book sounds quite interesting. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is getting rave reviews so far. You can usually read more about Michael and his work at his website, although right now the site seems to have a splash page, a schedule of appearances and not much else.
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