It absolutely, completely sings. I could sling around quotes all day, but suffice it to say that Chabon’s prose is elegantly clear, without unnecessary flourish or artifice. He’s got the knack of writing about the mythic without seeming pretentious or overwrought. People sound like people, even when they’re saying important things. “A baseball game is nothing but a great contraption to get you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer afternoon.” Yeah. I love the way he takes the sting out of the eloquence by deliberately dropping back into the vernacular with “get you to pay attention.” A lesser writer would have said “to force you to pay attention,” or used some other more grammatical construction.
On top of that, the structure of the book is beautiful. He’s said he was trying to do Susan Cooper for America, and I think he’s come pretty close. Baseball is the central metaphor, but it is not a book about baseball; I fell into the assumption that I was reading a book that would follow the usual sports tropes and was thus pleasantly flabbergasted at the climax.
I must also give Chabon credit for writing about the real American gods. Sorry, Neil. Gaiman’s characters claim that “This is a bad land for Gods,” but Chabon defuses such criticism and writes of The Tall Man with the Knife in His Boot and reminds us that yes. We do have our own myths. It is not necessary to paper the walls of America with faded gods of other lands.
Even his Coyote is pretty solid. He occupies the most malevolent corner of the Trickster continuum, but that’s OK. It’s good to be reminded that Coyote isn’t a benevolent god, just a god who mostly has good intentions.
I was probably fated to love this book from the moment Chabon casually mentioned a Hellboy T-shirt, catching the attention of my geek side, but everything else about Summerland was perfect too.