The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Score: 8 / 10

I sometimes gauge novels by how well I can visualize their scenes. If I have a clear picture in my mind of a scene’s setting, characters, and emotions, then the book is good. If I can’t clearly picture those things, then the book is (probably, but not always) bad.

By such measurement, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a (mostly) great book. It starts off with a bang. I don’t care at all about its subject materials (comics, stage magic, WWII), but I was completely drawn in for the first 400ish pages.

The long, florid but careful sentences, clippy dialogue, and historical interludes all combine to give it a real sense of place and time. Certain scenes are so vivid and heavy with entrepreneurial excitement that you can’t help but hold your breath in anticipation.

I love the scene when the titular characters and some other boys all hole up in a shithole apartment, desperately working through an entire weekend to finish a proof-of-concept version of their comic book. It just has this intense, ambitious energy that makes you root for the characters, willing them to succeed.

That energy builds and builds until about halfway through the book. At that point, the narrative kind of tapers off, becoming contrived and predictable, and the vivid mental pictures offered by the earlier scenes become slightly less crisp. The book ends in a way that somehow seems both plodding and rushed. And the overall feeling I was left with was one of minor disappointment that the incredible first-half performance wasn’t carried through.

That said, Kavalier & Clay is still a fantastic book. I love its writing style, energy, and characters; I only wish it had been able to deliver them consistently to the end.