Commentary Magazine


Chabon’s Progress

To the Editor:

In his review of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue [“Chabon 3.0,” September], D.G. Myers writes: “Except for John Williams’s lovely and largely unknown Stoner, now nearly a half-century old, there may not be another American novel about fatherhood.” Myers might recall novels by William Faulkner, several of them towering statements about relations between fathers and sons (Absalom, Absalom! for starters, as the title would suggest). Moreover, one must wonder how a literary historian at a Jewish studies center could overlook Chaim Potok’s The Promise or My Name Is Asher Lev? There are many other books that could be put on such a list. 

As for John Williams’s Stoner, I wonder how long it has been since Myers last experienced this grim novel. “Lovely”? A friend who read Stoner at my suggestion thought it ought to have been called Downer instead. What little it says about parent-child relations is entirely incidental to its bleak and bitter meditations on the viciousness and tedium of academic life. Could Myers possibly be thinking of some other work by Williams? This one in no way approximates his description of it. 

Allen J. Frantzen 
Wilmette, Illinois

_____________ 

To the Editor:

The review of Michael Chabon’s literary oeuvre by D.G. Myers omits the glaring anti-Semitic content and message of his novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. In the novel, the Jewish refugee community in Alaska is, to all appearances, stateless and totally powerless. However, this conceals the terrifying reality that these “Elders of Zion” possess hidden powers of evil and, through their mendacious maneuverings and machinations, constitute the greatest possible danger to the survival of all humankind.

By plotting to introduce a sanguinary religious war into the otherwise totally peaceful Islamic world, they would subject the entire planet to nuclear destruction. It is emphasized throughout the novel that the attachment of Jews to their religion, culture, and civilization is directly proportionate to their degeneracy. The clear implication is that the survival of humanity requires the elimination of such Jews, since only those (such as the book’s Detective Landsman) who reject Jewish loyalties can be considered truly and ideally human.

Were such a novel to be written about the Muslim Brotherhood, the author would be deluged with outrage from leftist critics attacking his “Islamophobia” and possibly rewarded with a fatwa on his head as well. This probably explains why such novels are not written by Mr. Chabon. It is time that reviewers in Jewish media recognize the offensive bigotry at the heart of such literature.

Nahum J. Duker 
Melrose Park, Pennsylvania

_____________ 

D.G. Myers writes:

Michael Chabon’s new novel Telegraph Avenue is so refreshing in large measure because it represents a decisive break with his previous Jewish writing, which was characterized by nothing so much as Jewish ignorance and Jewish ambivalence. But I’m not sure that I’d go as far as Nahum J. Duker and call The Yiddish Policemen’s Union an anti-Semitic novel in “content and message.” I’ve written elsewhere at length about Chabon’s errors, misunderstandings, slurs, and distortions, his lack of commitment to Jewish study, the “fundamental incoherence” at the heart of his Jewish fiction. The worst part of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is his self-confessed “nostalgia for exile,” which led Chabon to fantasize a world without Israel. Anti-Semitic, though? I guess I just don’t want to play the game of Can You Top This Outrage? And I want to give an immensely talented novelist the credit he deserves for taking his fiction in a new and more rewarding direction.

Allen J. Frantzen is upset that a Jewish scholar could overlook the novels of Chaim Potok. He might remember that every claim by a literary critic is an invitation to protest, “Yes, but,” and to cough up exceptions. I am happy he recommended Potok’s novels, but does that mean I have to? As for John Williams’s novel Stoner, which he finds “grim”: There really is no accounting for taste. It is true that the novel tells the story of a man whose life is a series of soul-grinding defeats. Somehow, though, William Stoner maintains his commitment to teaching, his fidelity to learning, and his depthless love for his daughter. His devotion becomes his triumph, and Williams’s account of his triumph—Stoner’s hard-fought survival of the defeats—is wholly persuasive and oddly gripping.
The novel can plausibly be described as “grim” only if the most urgent business of life is grim and not quietly heroic. 




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