I didn’t think I was going to like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay when I first started it. Little did I know that it would soon become one of my favorite reads of 2011. The book had been on my TBR list for years, and I finally picked it up for my Pulitzer 1s project, but the beginning — while well-written — just never grabbed me. Then somewhere around the 50 page mark, something clicked and I found myself going, “Just one more chapter! Just one more!” for the remaining 600 or so pages.
The book is about Samuel Klayman and Josef Kavalier, two cousins who are lucky enough to break into the comic book industry during its golden age, the 1930s – early 1940s. With Sam creating the stories and Joe providing the artwork, the two are able to create a quality comic series at a time when people were churning out bad product in hopes of raking in a small share of the lucrative industry. Their star: The Escapist, who is able to fight his way out of any bind in his quest for justice.
“Escapist” is a significant term in the book. The superhero’s past is similar to Sam’s in many ways, though it takes a while before Sam even realizes this. There’s another way that it applies to Sam, but I won’t get into that because it’s a surprise in the plot. It also reflects Joe, who recently — and just barely — escaped Hitler’s occupation of Prague. His entire family is still trapped there, and his main goal is to make a lot of money and find a way to get his family to the United States. This pain and frustration over his family is often poured into Joe’s art; and most of the early issues featuring The Escapist have him fighting various recognizable Nazi figureheads, Hitler included (see: book cover).
Chabon’s writing perfectly reflected the comic book atmosphere of the story: over the top and fearless. His vocabulary is to die for. I also loved that it was a coming of age story unlike any other I’ve ever read, much darker and set against the dramatic backdrop of World War II, taking the boys well into an uncertain adulthood. This was my first time reading anything by Chabon, and I know I’ll be seeking out more of his work in the future.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was originally released on September 19, 2000 by Random House.