This Tuesday, Michael Chabon's long-awaited fourth novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, will be released--his first full-length adult novel in seven years.
There's been tremendous buzz about the book. After all, his third novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize.
Chabon is used to blowing up our stereotypes. The Los Angeles Times (LAT) described his second book, Wonder Boys, as "the funniest and bleakest novel about the writing life ever set to paper . . . a deft examination of the rigors of expression." The LAT says Chabon's third book, Kavalier & Clay, "eclipses the line between literature and genre fiction, integrating elements of myth, history, pop culture and Jewish identity in a nearly seamless weave."
So how do you top that? According to Publishers Weekly, you write "a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller."
The new book depends on an historical factoid for its premise: Just before World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once suggested that the Jewish refugees from Europe be resettled in Alaska.
Chabon took that small item from history to create his alternate reality, a speculative history in which two million European Jews emigrated to the Alaskan Panhandle to settle in Sitka.
The tension of the novel depends on events large and small. The Jewish emigres have now been living in Alaska for sixty years, and their temporary federal sanctuary is about to revert back to the State of Alaska. Meanwhile homicide detective Meyer Landsman is having his own problems. His sexy ex-wife is now his boss, his cousin who is half Tlingit/half Jewish is his partner and one of the neighbors in his cheap hotel, a chess-obsessed heroin addict, has just been murdered.
Kirkus Reviews says: Imagine a mutant strain of Dashiell Hammett crossed with Isaac Bashevis Singer, as one of the most imaginative contemporary novelists extends his fascination with classic pulp."
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that HarperCollins won the novel "in a four-way, seven-figure auction in 2002, when it was little more than a one-and-a-half-page proposal. Now the company has again bet big, printing 200,000 copies of the finished product."
Chabon already has a movie deal--with Scott Rudin, the same producer who adapted Wonder Boys into the 2000 film starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and Frances McDormand.
Chabon told The New York Times that he needed a character who would have access to "many levels of society," and "That's why writers have been using detectives," drawing a parallel to Inspector Bucket in Dickens' Bleak House. According to Mr. Chabon, "the detective and the writer share a bond: 'a detective suffers about a case. Writers tend to be recriminators; they go back over the same turf'."
As a writer who has been going over and over the same turf in her next book proposal, I can empathize with Detective Landsman.
And I look forward to Chabon's latest novel.