Thumbs up for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. Science fiction.
Imagine: a noir mystery set in an alternate universe where the Jews got Alaska instead of Israel. These two concepts do not necessarily jibe, so they are stuck together with black humor. My boyfriend thinks this patch did not work. I think it does. My coworker thinks it fell apart in the last hundred pages, and yes, it goes in strange directions, but I do not consider that sufficient reason to not read it. This book gave me the most sheer pleasure of any book I’ve read so far this year. That said, I am exactly the right audience. I love black humor and bizarre juxtapositions and sprawling self-indulgent overuse of metaphor. When I was twelve, I read and re-read The Joys of Yiddish until it split into three sections; later, in spite of not being in the slightest bit Jewish, I took Hebrew classes for two months because there was nothing else fun to do in the hicksville I was living in. If you are not the right audience, you will know from the first page. But if there’s the slightest chance you will enjoy a big crazy juicy book, you should try it out.
Landsman gets paid – and lives – to notice what normal people miss, but it seems to him that until he walked into Zimbalist the boundary maven’s shop, he hasn’t given enough attention to string. String, twine, rope, cord, tape, filament, lanyard, hawser, and cable; polypropylene, hemp, rubber, rubberized copper, Kevlar, steel, silk, flax, braided velvet. The boundary maven has vast stretches of the Talmud by heart. Topography, geography, geodesy, geometry, trigonometry, they’re a reflex, like sighting along the barrel of a gun. But the boundary maven lives and dies by the quality of his string. Most of it – you can measure it in miles, or in vershts, or in hands, like a boundary maven – is coiled neatly on spools hung from the wall or stacked neatly, by size, on metal spindles. But a lot of it is heaped here and there in crazes and tangles. Brambles, hair combings, huge thorny elf knots of string and wire, blowing around the shop like tumbleweeds.
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