For those of you who never read the book, feel free to join in. I can't give a decent synopsis, but I'll give it a shot all the same. It's a story about Joe Kavalier, a Czeck Jewish teenager who left his family to come to the US during WWII and spends most of the book trying to help them reach safety, and his gay American cousin Sammy Clay. Their adventures center around the creation of successful comic book characters, as well as their relationships with each other, their respective families, their boss, their romantic interests, a Nazi sympathizer, etc.
The writing itself is mostly beautiful and fun, but labored at times. You have to be willing to put up with a style that I found to be irritatingly confusing at crucial moments (you know: gunshots, bombs going off, fight scenes) and excessively thick at times (to borrow a phrase from Chabon himself, they "caught like batter in the blades of the ceiling fans"). The sections that walk through a comic book's story and panels are amazingly effective.
But the real power of the book is its ability to capture believable characters. I could pick Joe or Sammy out of a crowd. I would know just how to talk to them. I fell in love with Joe during the first part of the book (didn't want to...) and cried at the end because of how Sammy dealt with the awkward family situation. It made me reflective, it heightened my awareness of my past conflicts and my current decisions (and is that a good thing?).
To continue a quote I started on this post:
At the same time, as he watched the reckless exercise of Joe's long, cavalier frame, the display of strength for its own sake and for the love of display, the stirring of passion was inevitably shadowed, or fed, or entwined by the memory of his father. We have the idea that our hearts, once broken, scar over with an indestructible tissue that prevents their ever breaking again in quite the same place; but as Sammy watched Joe, he felt the heartbreak of that day in 1935 when the Mighty Molecule had gone away for good.
I've sometimes felt that my heart is scarring over nicely--I've come to accept the desires in myself that are never going to be fulfilled. Whether that involves removing the desire altogether or just letting it settle silently into the unacknowledged background, I don't really care. But reading this book--particularly the part recognized by all the reviews I read online as a happy ending--had quite a sobering effect on me. It reminded me that what I believe is right and necessary for myself is nothing like what many people believe is best for me. Being reminded in just this way opened that wound up all over again, and the happy ending I had been promised was excruciating. I am Sammy, in so many ways, and I can't/won't be trotting off to Hollywood to be "true to myself," despite that I genuinely want to at times. I was filled with self-pity and confusion and cried. I had to deliberately remind myself why I've made the decisions I have, and that I'm really glad for them.