-->
Reviews

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon

Zachary Houle

Is Michael Chabon only interested in treading water after winning the Pulitzer?"


The Final Solution

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 131
Subtitle: A Story of Detection
Price: $16.95 (US)
Author: Michael Chabon
US publication date: 2004-11
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

You know a novella reeks of importance despite its slim, compact size when the publisher delivers it to a reviewer in a box that could easily fit a couple of footballs. I found this in an auxiliary mailbox reserved for parcels, filled with all sorts of packing paper and air-filled plastic bags as though a precious jewel were encased inside. Considering the book in question lying in all the waste was Michael Chabon's first adult book follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I naturally had my hopes up.

For those who haven't heard or read any of the hype surrounding this short tome -- originally published in a now sold-out edition of The Paris Review literary magazine during 2003 -- The Final Solution is the story of Sherlock Holmes' last case as set in the English countryside during the dying days of World War II. (Though I should note that Holmes is never named in the book.) It involves a mute boy who can only communicate in gibberish through poorly scrawled handwritten notes, and his missing pet parrot, which has the bizarre ability to spew out random German numbers along the lines of that famous Conet Project box set of shortwave radio recordings Wilco once sampled.

Sounds fascinating, you say? Upon reading this thing in little over an hour, I say, "Thank the Good Lord that Chabon kept this story to 131 pages." That said, the biggest disappointment of The Final Solution for me lied not in the snail's pace plot, though, but in how many postmodern clichés Chabon piled on in such a short book. (At this point I would advise any readers who're serious about picking this novella up to skip down one paragraph, for they will easily twig into the book's final reveal.)

We're talking major clichés in thematic like the insanity of war, or the impossibility of making sense of something that defies logic. That's not to speak of the cliché of the book's main conceit itself: of transplanting a fictional character from modernist fiction in some weird bid to score points with meta-fiction hipsters. All of this would have been something, if only Gravity's Rainbow, Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22 and so on didn't already exist. If you haven't yet figured that ending out, let me spell it out for you: Chabon cribs one of the oldest tricks in the postmodern plot book, and that is "the unsolvable enigma." I'm sure they teach that now in Grade Four narrative writing classes, along with the handy "it was all a dream" plot device used in po-mo movies like Vanilla Sky.

Ultimately, though, the book is a garbled mess, full of too many characters and too many characters that aren't fully formed enough to care about. In fact, I'm really not sure what the point of this book was. If it was to write another Sherlock Holmes story, not only does it seem bizarre that Chabon chooses to never refer to the main character as Holmes but always "the old man," he never brings up Baker Street or Moriarty or Watson or other signifiers of the Holmes world. There's also not enough mystery or clues within to allow readers to deduct what's going on. In fact, if you think about the goings-on of this book for any extended period of time, you may find they don't make too much sense. Not that this matters too much in the mystery genre: The Big Sleep comes to mind as a book where the events of the plot fail to line up properly vis-à-vis the case being solved.

Still, you have to have something else going on either in the characterizations or writing quality, and this is what Raymond Chandler brought to the table in Sam Spades through the persona of Philip Marlowe. Not so here. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will probably throw the book across the room upon reading its final denouement.

On the other hand, the novella is far too compact to offer much amusement to those seeking any literary thrills. Chabon seems to be going somewhere by giving the title of his book some allusion to Nazi Germany and its horrific treatment of Jewish peoples, but this thread doesn't really develop in earnest. At which point, again, one has to wonder what exactly the point of this exercise was, to write a book about nothing.

The whole point of storytelling, assuming you're not out to prove your mettle to an audience of academics (which conversely nips the idea your work is going to be read by the public-at-large anyway), is to power communicate something to an audience, whether it be an emotion, an image or an idea, and so on.

Well, after reading this novella, I had to wonder if Michael Chabon has finally run out of things to talk about. I even had to wonder if this was his way of either fulfilling a contractual obligation to his publisher. Or perhaps he had something he wanted off his chest, but wound up being simply too hell-bent on impressing a tiny circle of friends and admirers with his genre skewing and impenetrable, show-off-y prose full of $50 and $100 words to care. After all, the book is dedicated to the memory of author Amanda Davis, and if you search the memorial at the McSweeney's website - www.mcsweeneys.net/davis.html - you can draw your own conclusions about the incestuous nest the New York literati have made for themselves.

Speaking of connections, readers who agree with all of these assertions might want to wonder how this thing wound up winning an Aga Khan Prize for fiction in 2004, considering that it's the award The Paris Review gives to the best story it publishes in any given year. Well, not me. After reading this and his rather unexciting Escapist comic book project in the wake of Kavalier and Clay's success, I actually wonder about something completely different: is Michael Chabon only interested in treading water after winning the Pulitzer?

Now there's a mystery worth solving.

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
9
Music

The Dear Hunter: All Is As All Should Be EP

Jordan Blum
Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Although All Is As All Should Be is a tad too brief to match its precursors, it's still a masterful blend of songwriting, arrangements, and singing that satisfies the Dear Hunter anticipation.

The Dear Hunter is undoubtedly one of the best—and consequently, most egregiously underappreciated—bands of the last decade or so. Aside from 2013's Migrant LP, every one of their major releases featured an ambitious hook; for example, 2011's The Color Spectrum presented nine EPs (consisting of four songs each) that individually represented a different sonic tone (in order: Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and White), whereas the five-part (so far) Act saga, with its genre-shifting arrangements, superlative songwriting, narrative complexity, and extraordinary conceptual continuity, is a cumulative work of genius, plain and simple.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image