Sunday, May 06, 2007

Genre Is Jewy

So your favorite Chosen pals were perusing the mountain of press about Michael Chabon — you know, the Jewish-American (and excuse us, but hot) novelist who knocked your socks off and nabbed a Pulitzer with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay — and we had an epiphany.

OK, we read about Chabon's epiphany and sort of rode his epiphanic coattails. Whatever.

The point is, Chabon (pronounced, in his words, "'Shea' as in stadium, 'bon' as in Jovi") had earned serious clout in serious fiction circles writing serious novels about serious people. You know: realism. Solidly plotted, insightful portraits of real people undergoing crises large and small, having breakdowns, experiencing loss in the despairing glow of the digital readouts on their clock radios.

But writing K & C caused him to fully embrace his love of writing genre fiction — his deep fondness not only for comics but also monsters and time travel and swords and sorcery.

His new book, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, has an openly "fantastic" premise — in an alternate reality, Israel was never created, and Europe's Jewish remnant was instead relocated (per an actual plan pondered by FDR) to Alaska. Within that premise, according to the first tantalizing reviews, Chabon weaves a mystery informed by the great noir raconteurs and throws in a ton of other fab genre elements.

Are we eager, nay, salivating to read this book? You could say that. But something Chabon says in one of the articles truly resonated for us both: that embracing genre was like "coming out."

Because genre love is kinda queer, in the cultural sense. Rather like an overtly Jewish sensibility in an overwhelmingly Christian mainstream.

In fact, when we think about Jewish expression, we keep coming back to pop, and pulp, and genre.

Not just Chabon's superhero-inventing, second-generation smart alecks, but also Marc Chagall's fantastic, surrealistic tableaux and the Marx Brothers' Vaudevillian anarchy. We envision the Three Stooges bitch-slapping each other in a haunted house. We dream of the spoofs and homages of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. We see Jewish magic in Spielberg's sharks and aliens and robots — perhaps even more than in his "serious" work. We picture the Coen brothers' noirish riffs and absurdist mayhem, and Sam Raimi's zombie gorefests and Web-slinging blockbusters. And Eli Roth's dungeon nightmares.

To quote one of the least Jewish moments of all time, these are a few of our favorite things.

We love genre. We are not ashamed to tell stories about monsters or superheroes or time travelers or weary private eyes or ronin on a mission of vengeance. We do not consider these modes to be debased or unserious or a distraction from "real people" or "real problems." These are ways to tell stories that allow the storyteller — and the audience — to fly, like Chagall's lovers, or E.T.

Genre is Jewy!


Port said...

Really interesting idea here. Would love to read more from you on it.

Port said...

Also, have you read Marge Piercy's "He, She and It"? More Jewish genre-writing, and it is exceptional.

Simon Glickman and Sera Gamble said...

Thank you. It's an idea in progress. Haven't read that particular MP work, but always loved her poetry.

vikkitikkitavi said...

It's hard for me not to resent Chabon for his hand in enabling the celebrity of Sienna "I love Pittsburgh" Miller.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i heard chabon interviewed on npr and he said that the germ of this fantasy was planted when he found and old "yiddish phrasebook for travelers" and started "what if" tripping on the idea of a yiddish state. i am looking way forward to this one. (unjewish bibliophile that i am)