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Adam Kirsch Reviews Michael Chabon's 'Moonglow,' an 'Apollo Mission to the Past'.

The term "the Greatest Generation" has been around for 20 years, but the members of that cohortAmericans who grew up in the Depression, fought World War II, won the space race and the Cold Warare now gone, or are going fast. And as they go, the temptation to mythologize them becomes harder and harder to resist. This is especially true, perhaps, for American Jews, who see in their grandparents certain virtuesof toughness, worldliness, practicality, and pridethat are in short supply among later, richer, and softer Jewish generations. Of course, the past always seems more authentic than the present. But there is no doubt that American Jews born in the 1920s had a harder destiny to cope with than Jews born in the 1950s or 1980s. (Whether this trajectory toward greater ease and acceptance will continue into the 21st century is, sadly, an open question.)

In Moonglow, his brilliantly imaginative and entertaining new novel, Michael Chabon has written his own tribute to his grandparents' generation. Chabon is a born teller of tall tales, with a gift for heightening. It makes sense that in his best-known book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, he wrote a parable about the American Jewish invention of comic-book superheroes, because his own heroes are always about 50 percent larger than life. Indeed, one way to think of his books are as graphic novels in prose, in which hypervivid metaphors do the work of line and color. Such little bursts of verbal magic occur on virtually every page of Moonglow: "He reran the grainy kinescope of memory"; "one sometimes sensed a weird crackling around her, a scorching like dust on a solenoid"; "he switched off the Zeiss [telescope] of his imagination." Chabon is so profligate with these conceits that his writing can seem antically clever, but that doesn't mean it is show-offy or insincere. On the contrary, like a good graphic novelist, he uses stylization and exaggeration to create the large emotional effects his story requires.

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Author:Kirsch, Adam
Publication:Tablet Magazine
Date:Nov 16, 2016
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