25 June 2006

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

I just finished Michael Chabon's new book, "The Final Solution," a little tidbit of a detective story set in WWII Sussex. It's an entertaining enough read, but ultimately pretty unsatisfying. I think there were two reasons I didn't really like it.

One, it relies too heavily on the protagonists' reputation, which is simply stated in the text. There's not enough direct evidence or actual anecdote related to that, and instead there are too many omniscient-voice statements like, "...his sense -- a faculty at one time renowned throughout Europe -- of a promising anamoly." Reading all of these sentences made me want to read a different book about the Old Man when he was actually famous instead of this book about his retirement -- after all, wouldn't have wanted to watch a series about Columbo doddering about in the old age home.

Secondly, and probably more fatally for most current audiences, is the resolution of the central mystery regarding a series of numbers that a parrot repeats ad infinitum. [mild spoiler] The end of the book reveals that... we don't know what they are. The last utterance of the book by the young boy, combined with the book's title, gives a pretty clear hint as to their true significance. But for any mainstream audience, especially a non-Jewish one whose acquaintance with details of the Holocaust is weak, I think that hint, and thus some of the power of the book, will be lost. Yes, it's bad to talk down to your audience, but if you want to rely on a particular practice from the death camps for your resolution, you should introduce that bit of history to the narrative somewhere.

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