If I could switch identities with a writer, I would like to be Michael Chabon. He has total command of the English language; creates colorful, yet believable, characters; displays a wonderful sense of the comic and the absurd in daily life; is compassionate about the faults and frailties of human beings; believes in the ability of people to mature and change for the better; and just seems to be having so much fun being a teller of tales. I can't put his books down and I always feel more cheerful when I have finished one.
This novel is the story of two families living and working in a region of California on the borderland between yuppie Berkeley and down-and-out Oakland. The men, one white and Jewish and one black, run a "church of the vinyl," a used record store specializing in jazz and early rhythm and blues and hip-hop, a business being threatened by the proposed opening of a mega-store which will have its own used vinyl department. Their two wives are partners as well--nurse midwives--and their livelihood is being threatened by a looming lawsuit about a birthing gone wrong. On top of all this, the black couple, who are expecting their first baby, are suddenly surprised by the appearance of the man's teenage son from a long-ago romance, and the white couple's teenage son has fallen completely in love with the boy.
The large cast of memorable supporting characters includes a wheeling-and-dealing city councilman and funeral home director, an elderly organ-playing musical legend, a former action-movie actor and his long-legged former costar and current girlfriend, the "fifth-richest black man in America," an incredibly old female Chinese martial arts teacher, an overweight lawyer who defends whales and calls himself Moby, and an extremely verbal and talented parrot.
All these are written about in prose that is dense, lush, and full of metaphors and $2 words. Another writer using so many words when just a few could tell the same story would surely come off as pretentious. But somehow Chabon does not. His writing is so joyful and exuberant, and he is so obviously and unashamedly showing off that it works as part of his charm. When he includes a 12-page chapter which is all one sentence, he seems like nothing so much as a young teen boy showing off, saying, "Hey, look at me. I can ride my bike with no hands." Few writers in my reading experience have had the power to carry me along just with the words, regardless of plot. Michael Chabon can.