Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Light ON "The Final Solution"

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon

It was a strange, nonlinear line which brought me to read The Final Solution this month. I won't take you down the path; I'll just say I've loved other novels by Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Wonder Boys, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union) and saw this relatively short offering as a quick dip into the mind of this gifted, Pulitzer Prize winning author.

The focus of The Final Solution undulates around an extraordinary gray parrot—Bruno, who calls out lengthy strings of numbers in German—and his mute companion, a little Jewish refugee named Linus. The omniscient narrator's perspective shifts from chapter to chapter, detailing the unfurling events as perceived by a diverse cast: a clever octogenarian, a since-retired Sherlock-esque detective of international fame; a suspicious character living in the same boarding house as Linus and Bruno; in their own turns, the couple who owns the boarding house; an inspector called upon to solve a murder and a disappearance; even the bird himself. The swiftly swapping narration, steadied by Chabon's carefully wrought language, flows quickly through the brief story... though more than once, I found myself re-reading paragraphs that seemed overly complicated, not sure once I'd found the meaning what it applied to anymore.

If you take it at its word and consider it a story of detection, you might be disappointed. It doesn't quite fit in with the modern-day mysteries and the resolution is only kind-of satisfying. Thinking back about it again and again, I can really only come up with one clue in the whodunit. But bonus: Chabon doesn't include a lengthy monologue by the crime-solvers explaining how they came to their ultimate conclusion (their final solution), so that's something I can get behind. The story really is much more of a protracted character study than a mystery, with Chabon's elegant language and one-sentence paragraphs building humans moreso than suspense or thrills. We get to know several characters with some intimacy, but sadly we see so little of the interesting personalities populating The Final Solution that more questions are left dangling irritatingly in front of our faces than are answered.

Overall, it was a quick read filled with some really fine turns of phrase and brilliant metaphors, and an OK story of detection with a resolution I didn't expect. Even though it wasn't my favorite read ever, my opinion of Chabon's mastery hasn't changed. His particular gift for verbose prose is much better suited to a longer novel. It seemed to me that this could have been a much shorter story in the hands of a more concise writer, that Chabon had a vase for a short story and too many lovely words to fill it and didn't mind if he spilled a little so long as he could do so beautifully.

Until next time...
- Abby, Reference Librarian

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