This book struck me in an odd way in that I could recognize in a disconnected, impartial observer sort of way that it was clever, heartbreaking, artful, extensively detailed, well researched, and deeply funny, except that all of these qualities added up to me not caring one bit about the novel or the characters. If this says anything, I recognized in a purely analytical sense that, Yes, indeed, this is technically a "good book," but I would never pick up another of Chabon's works again. There was nothing within it that struck a meaningful chord in me (though, clearly, it has struck a chord with a great many other people).
Something that bothered me was that Chabon's sentences could be so over-puffed (that's the primary word that kept coming to mind) that they almost became a study in how lengthy and convoluted with highfalutin vocabulary a sentence can be. I'm all for lengthy sentences, and I'm all for coming across new words in my reading (in fact, I hope for that quality in a book), but I got the sense at times that Chabon was simply showing off in order to prop his novel up as high art, real capital-L Literature, crafted for the express purpose of earning the praise of the New York City and NPR crowd. Or, perhaps Chabon is just really smart and it comes naturally to him to write in this way. That doesn't mean it is terribly enjoyable to read.
I'm not saying the book is shit--not in the least. It is one of those grand epics that encompasses the entirety of its characters' lives and explores a wide assortment of facets (magic tricks, isolated life in the arctic, World War II, lock-picking, writing stories, drawing superheroes, a Jewish Golem). Its sensibility is big, bold, and unabashedly American, but in a colorful, fun way that mirrors the comic books at its center. The drama that unfolds between its three main characters, while not particularly engaging to me, was well told.
It was interesting to read this not long after having finished The Goldfinch (both novels were Pulitzer Prize winners) because, although I enjoyed that book far more, I noticed some parallels. that made the two seem noticeably similar. Both books are big in scope, even though they pivot around a small group of characters. Both span the length of someone's life and therefore are widely varied in the areas of human experience that they consider. Perhaps that isn't much and sounds generic, like it could fit the description of many novels, but in reading Kavalier & Clay I kept being reminded of Donna Tartt's book.
In all, this book wasn't my ideal reading scenario, but I can see how a different type of person would find it unutterably adventurous and pleasurable. Still, at nearly 700 pages, I didn't quit as I might have with a lesser book. I stuck with it because it was admittedly engaging 85% of the time, I just can't put my finger on why it didn't connect with me more on an emotional level.
Recommended if you're into: Stories that take place in New York City, 1920's to 1950's America, the Golden Age of comics, Harry Houdini, World War II, McSweeney's Quarterly (because it's got the same literary tone as much of what Dave Eggers puts out), classic superheroes, vintage TV and radio.