Friday, August 26, 2011

The Final Solution

I had just about caught up with my reviews but then held up because I wanted to research this one a little more. It is a review of a book written by one of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon.

Chabon's place in my stable of fantastic authors has been knocked down a few notches over the years with some books I just didn't enjoy very much. I'm reminded of a TED talk with Elizabeth Gilbert where she expresses that she has come to grips with the fact that she will likely never match the success she has had with Eat, Pray, Love and that her writing career is all downhill from here.

I had been feeling that Chabon was in the same boat. What do you do after you win a Pulizter Prize (for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay)? Chabon has branched out into other genres writing movie screenplays, comics, a children's book (Summerland, which I enjoyed), and now has a picture book coming out next month. And it's not like his writing has become bad. He is still as marvelous with words as ever. I just haven't liked his stories much.

The Final Solution came out seven years ago, a year after it first appeared in The Paris Review. I avoided reading it for a number of reasons, the biggest one being I hate people who write Sherlock Holmes stories who aren't named Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It bothers me to no end. You have a brain, come up with your own character, and don't leech off a legend. Sheesh. And for one of my favorite authors to do so? The mind boggles at my moral dilemma.

The thing is, for all the talk about this novella being about Sherlock Holmes, I cannot find any suggestion that it actually is. The sleuthing hero in the story, an old man who was once a respected, legendary crime investigator in England is only referred to as "The old man". Heck, Chabon might have been ripping off Hemingway. The old man has excellent powers of observation and deduction. The story takes place in the early 1940's which makes the age right but I found no reference that said "Hey, the old man is Sherlock Holmes". I have read every Sherlock Holmes story that Doyle wrote. And while I don't have a photographic memory, I would think something would register in my brain as being from some Holmes tale. Even more so, I would think if you're going to make it a Sherlock Holmes story, you make the obvious reference. You reference the stories everyone knows; A Study in Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear...something. Nothing.

So I applaud Chabon for the incredible act of writing a story that most people think is a Sherlock Holmes story but isn't. That's talent. I think.

What is this story then? Well, there's a young mute lad with a parrot that speaks German and rattles off sequences of numbers from time to time. The boy lives in a boarding house with some motley characters. One night the parrot vanishes and one of the household members is found murdered. The inspector on the scene is baffled and enlists the old man's assistance. The old man realizes that the parrot is the key to the mystery and so they search for the bird instead of the killer. Both are found but the importance of the parrot (if there is any importance to be attached to the parrot) is left as a mystery.

All in all I liked it. It was a nice breezy book which is hard to say about a Chabon work given his predilection for gargantuan words. It also has a handful of nice illustrations. I initially wanted to give it two stars but the more I thought about it, the more I felt I was doing so because it was written by Chabon. Anyone else and it's a nice story. So I'll be honest with myself and give it one-star.

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