Failure: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I am sort of part of a book club–meaning I get emails from the book club telling when they’re getting together and what they’re reading, but I’ve never actually attended one of the meet-ups. This book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, was the book for both May and June due to the fact that it is 656 pages long.

Jacket blurb: “It is New York City in 1939. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat to date: smuggling himself out of Nazi-occupied Prague. He is looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn’s own Sammy Clay, is looking for a collaborator to create the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book. Out of their fantasies, fears, and dreams, Joe and Sammy weave the legend of that unforgettable champion the Escapist. And inspired by the beautiful and elusive Rosa Saks, a woman who will be linked to both men by powerful ties of desire, love, and shame, they create the otherworldly mistress of the night, Luna Moth. As the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe and the world, the Golden Age of comic books has begun.”

I hate failing at things. Often, I will persist at something long after it’s become a fruitless case just because I want it finished. This book, though, I could not finish. I made it to page 226 and was unable to make myself go farther.

The plot sounds so intriguing and unique. I am interested in comics, and the characters sound very interesting, but for some reason I could not get into the book. It is very literary–with lots of description and asides and chapters dedicated to loosely-related but fairly interesting backgrounds of characters and backstory, and I’ve read and enjoyed many other literary novels. From the 226 pages I read, I could tell it was well-written and well-shaped. I have nothing at all against it. The blame for my failure must fall entirely on myself.

I did have a little trouble connecting with the characters–but making those connections is very personal. I’ve mentioned before in another post, Am I Likable?, that everyone has different sorts of characters they are drawn to, and I guess Joe and Sammy weren’t my kind of characters, no matter how interesting their blurb made them sound.

I decided to write this review up in spite of my failure because I think I can still learn something from it.

  1. Sometimes I may fail at something, and that is okay. I am not perfect, no matter how hard I try to be. This goes for my writing too–I may start a project that just won’t work, that no amount of editing will fix. There will be times when I have to walk away from a manuscript and start something new. (I’ve done this–actually I have a pile of manuscripts, but some I’d like to revisit someday.)
  2. Even when I’m published, even when I’ve made an amazing book that agents and editors fight over, there will be people out there who don’t like my work and may say bad things about it, and that’s okay.
  3. An great idea outlined on paper won’t always turn out that great once it’s put into practice. Just like how the blurbs for Kavalier and Clay drew me in, but the actual book couldn’t keep me involved.

So thank you, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, for teaching me some good lessons. We’ll have to see if I can put those lessons to use.

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5 thoughts on “Failure: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

  1. Jake says:

    You must try it again. One of my favorite books. It took me awhile to get through the first half, but after that I couldn’t put it down.

  2. Kathleen Wall says:

    I’ve never thought of not making it through a book as “failing.” I used to make myself read whatever I’d started… because others recommended it or it was a classic or whatever. Now I realize there are only so many hours in the day, and I don’t have to spend mine reading something I have to force myself to finish. (OK, I have to do that for classes, but not for something I choose to read!) I like the lessons you learned. So true: there’s not a book out there that everyone loves!

  3. I recently had to give up on a book and went through that same thought process of “Is this some kind of a failure on my part as a reader?” When I put the question out there, though, I got wonderful responses from other avid readers who all said basically the same thing: Life is too short to read books that don’t make you want to keep reading. After all, think of all the other books out there you might be missing out on reading while you’re trying to force yourself to trudge through a book you’re really not all that interested in! Sure, it’s a disappointment to not love a book you want to be excited about, but I’d rather be disappointed after only having spent the time to read 200-some-odd pages than be disappointed after investing the time to read 600-some-odd pages…

    And, as my wise sister once said, a book that takes 200 pages to hook its readers is a book that should be 200 pages shorter.

  4. Such great comments! Thank you!
    So, um, as I said, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, which may become clear to you after you see what I post tomorrow…

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