Seeing as how there's been quite a bit of ink/pixels/whatever spilled on the subject of Michael Chabon's new novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, I will be brief.
Damn, it's good.
Reading The Yiddish Policeman's Union, I was reminded of that Dylan tune from the Wonderboys soundtrack, "Things Have Changed".* It ain't the greatest thing ol' Bob ever done, but it's damn fine songwriting and perks along at a zippy pace - a seemingly effortless little tale that is a lot harder to write than it looks. It gets stuck in your head for days, and even if it maybe doesn't quite measure up to his earlier stuff it's just a pleasure to enjoy something made by someone who's so good at what they do.
Chabon gives us a world where, instead of Israel, the displaced Jews of WWII got a chunk of Alaska called Sitka. Our Hero - Sitka homicide detective Meyer Landsman - has recently had a truly wretched divorce and is living in a fleabag hotel, deep into a romance with a shot glass and a bottle of slivovitz. When a junkie a few rooms over turns up dead, shot execution-style in the back of the head with a half-finished chess game on the table next to his bed, Lansman takes it personal and sets out to find the killer.
Things in Sitka are often not what they seem, and it is - in an oft-repeated phrase around the town - "A strange time to be a Jew". Mysteries deepen, thuggish Orthodox "Black Hats" are up to something, and the long-planned date of "Resettlement" is fast approaching, when the Jews of Sitka will have to hand the place back over to the Feds.
I won't say much else about the plot, as is only fair with a detective story, but I will say this: it almost - but I would say not quite - goes off the rails towards the end.
On the other hand, it's a hell of a yarn and it's written like gangbusters. Chabon can string a sentence together like few else out there. It is simply a blast and a half to read the man's prose, and for that, I'll forgive just about anything.
If I had to sum up the novel's appeal - its heady blend of "What if...?", hardboiled Judaica and masterful writing - I'd do it with the following sentence, in which Landsman is struggling with a suspect for his gat.
"He yanks his sholem loose and turns it around, and the world pulls the trigger on all its guns."
Seriously. It's good.
*This flick, philistine that I am, was my first introduction to this Chabon feller. Also, Alan "Wash from Firefly" Tudyk played the janitor/former student of the protagonist in the film. And now you know.