Michael Chabon's Summerland: A Half Review
Why a half review? Because I've only read about half the book. And I'm not going to read anymore.
I can't fathom what possessed Chabon - author of the fabulous Kavalier and Clay - to write Summerland.
Oh, wait. Yes I can. Money. I imagine one day his publisher came to him and said, "Hey, Michael, why don't you write a children's book so we can cash in on the Harry Potter-fueled children's fantasy book craze?"
And Michael said "What a fabulous idea. Except I never really wrote for children before."
To which the publisher said "Oh, that doesn't matter, make it up as you go along!"
Which may work well for some people - after all, Rowling had never written a children's book before she wrote Harry Potter - but it does not work for Chabon. In fact, by the third or fourth chapter of Summerland it becomes painfully obvious that Chabon is in way over his head.
Chabon takes the tried and true formula of putting an ordinary kid in an extraordinary situation and mutilates it. He 'borrowed' liberally from Lewis, Rowland, Eager and L'Engle, taking their ideas and themes and mashing them all together in what amounts to a big mess of a story with no direction and no coherence.
The idea of taking all the things that made other children's fantasy books work and putting them into one story may seem like a genius idea at the start, but imagine it this way: taking all of your favorite desserts and sticking them in a food processor to make one uber dessert would not turn out well. Not only would you not be able to tell the peanut butter from the chocolate, but it would taste like ass.
In Summerland, Chabon goes by a formula that's worked for kid's movies for ages (and don't for a minute think that Chabon wasn't penning a screenplay so much as a novel when he wrote it): a misfit kid, his misfit, skeptical best friend, a mean adult, an adult who manage to see the magic that kids see, an absent (in this case, dead) parent and the idea that human beings are shit. In what can be called a misplaced stroke of genius, Chabon decided to make his story different than all the others by giving it an underlying theme of baseball. What could be better than marrying magic and baseball? Too bad the baseball theme gets tiring and burdensome about 60 pages in.
Summerland could have been good. No, it could have been great. Fabulous. Stupendous. A giant leap in the realm of children's fantasy. But Chabon can't tell the story, which is surprising. While he knows how to string words together to make a beautiful sentence, he can't string the constantly changing plot lines together. Story lines come out of nowhere, leaving the reader disjointed and confused. Too often, things don't make sense and the baseball metaphor appears forced, throwing the story into further disarray.
I'll probably give in and read the rest of the book, just to see how he wraps up the myriad story lines and closes the gaping holes. I had high expectations for this book and for Chabon. Summerland was touted as the greatest thing since Harry, but it's the children's fantasy version of Goosebumps.