originally posted elsewhere: October 26, 2003
tl;dr: Escape from ordinary novels....
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (K&C) is a multidimensional achievement: it is a buddy story, a love triangle (of sorts), a war epic, and an "only in America" story of freedom, repression, and economic boom and bust. But ultimately, at its core, it is a story of escapism and the many ways in which people choose to or choose not to escape from aspects of their lives.
Chabon has many worthwhile thoughts to communicate to readers. He covers topics such as mid 20th century social mores, life in New York City and the flight to the suburbs (a thinly fictionalized Levittown), the creation and impact of comic books, the artistic and creative process, the meaning of family, the scourge of Nazism and the affect of World War II on civilians, Jewish religious tradition, magic, government persecution, and the clash between labor and capital in the economic sphere. Chabon's writing is well informed and intelligent, and he manages to cover these topics in a very entertaining style.
My issues with K&C are minor, the primary one being that I wish Chabon had run the novel through the distiller one more time, to reduce its volume by 25 percent and make it even more intense. I found the portrayal of Clay's sexuality to be lacking, since it omitted any significant depictions of pleasure in his few furtive relationships (contrast this to the depictions of Kavalier's relationship with Rosa). And the plotline is a bit fainter and harder to follow at times than it needs to be.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is definitely a (but not "the") Great American Novel, and is recommended to anyone who enjoys a meaty tome with a plentitude of ideas to ponder.