Re: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

The 2007 Nebula final ballot is out, and I’ve actually read a few of them. So let here’s what I think of the one novel I’ve read so far.

You probably already know the premise of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon. So far this and The Final Solution are the two Chabon books I’ve read. I have to say I find both of them rather gimmicky. There’s a high concept at the core and then he works out what the story should be around it. But it’s such a great concept. What if the jews had been given a homeland in Alaska, instead of taking back the old one? And what if what had been given was about to be taken away?

The level of invention for the setting is wonderful, going beyond the obvious jewish stuff, like the Esperanto in his hotel. As always, his prose is beautiful, and unlike The Final Solution, never gets in the way. If you know even a smattering of yiddish, the vocabulary is delightful. My one complaint was that in every description there would always be three incredibly creative smells.

Meyer Landsman is such a sorry sack of human misery it’s hard for me to feel more than pity for him. I liked his ex-wife Bina much more. The story seemed to come alive whenever she showed up. Or maybe that’s an expression of how Meyer’s hope comes alive only when she’s around.

Ultimately it’s a hard-boiled yid story, Sam Spade in the Lower East Side. Which means he has to uncover a Vast Conspiracy. And since it’s a jewish story, the Conspiracy is the one to rebuild the Temple and welcome the Messiah. And since jews are too sensible to actually try this, the real conspirators are scary-crazy American fundamentalists of the red heifer cult variety. This last is where I say, Feh. I’ve heard of those guys and I thought they were ridiculous the first time. Chabon does manage to make them frightening.

Enormous loose threads are left hanging, like the great Conspiracy and the Reversion. Of the other plot threads, the only resolution is the revelation of how the Tzaddik ha-Dor chose to die. The book ends shortly after Meyer and Bina sleep together. This makes sense only if you agree that the real story is about how they are still attracted to each other while the world around them falls apart. There’s so much going on, I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s probably the happiest place to leave them.

Worth reading, though I liked the journey more than the destination.

Tomorrow: The Final Solution.