Additionally, I felt the novel faltered in the latter chapters, which briefly skim over a period of about ten years, during which time one of the characters, so we are to believe, lived undetected in an office in the Empire State Building practically under the noses of his former friends and colleagues. I'm sorry, but this unlikely scenario completely suspended my suspension of disbelief, which was already stretched thin by the trans-Antarctic aviation expertise of an untrained military radio operator.
Finally, I found myself genuinely confused by Chabon's sudden change of form when he introduced the notorious (or is it "revered"?) EC Comics publisher William Gaines. Throughout the story, as I noted earlier, Mr. Chabon tosses names around with casual abandon, not bothering to explain who the people are even when their significance might be important to the reader's better understanding of the story. For instance, he mentions Milton Caniff a number of times when describing visual details, delineating settings in terms of Caniff illustrations, but never once telling us what a Caniff illustration looks like. For the record, Caniff was the author/illustrator of the angular, shadowy Terry & the Pirates and Steve Canyon strips in the 1940s. Chabon also references Elzie Segar on several occasions, again suggesting settings that resemble Segar drawings, yet not once mentioning Segar's creation, Popeye the Sailor, nor describing the ramshackle constructions that visually defined Segar's comic-strip world.
When he introduces Gaines, however, who is only mentioned in the story and whose presence is essentially superfluous, Mr. Chabon dedicates a full paragraph to background information on the outspoken publisher. Later he provides yet another paragraph of information. I found this arbitrary and unequal treatment of the other comics industry personalities, most of whom were of greater significance to a full appreciation of the story, jarring and confusing. It smacked to me of "name dropping," as though having a more than passing familiarity with Gaines carries some kind of cachet. As indeed, perhaps it does; after all, Kavalier & Clay garnered a Pulitzer.
Just for the record, and for a change of pace from my usual groundless, baseless, and uninformed critiques of writers and filmmakers, I actually do have, or had, as he's dead now, a more-than-passing familiarity with Bill Gaines; indeed, a personal relationship... uhm, of a type that did not involve all-male beach parties or lubricating gels.
Okay, perhaps I overstated my acquaintance with Bill Gaines to lure you into reading beyond the cut. Here's the story: I actually have, somewhere, a personal handwritten note I received from Gaines on a photostatted page from MAD Magazine. You see, a few years ago MAD Magazine sponsored a "major motion picture" entitled Up the Academy. It was with the highest of expectations that several friends and I attended this momentous film. Our expectations were crushed... crushed I say, shattered even, by the overweening lameness of this eagerly-awaited film. And I told Mr. Gaines as much, in a letter I wrote to the editorial offices of MAD Magazine. In recompense for the money I sacrificed at the box office, I asked the magazine if they might send me, gratis, one of their famed posters of figurehead Alfred E. Newman, suitable for framing or wrapping fish. To my surprise and delight I received not only a poster, but a photocopied page of the artwork from an upcoming MAD movie parody... of their own film! Scribbled across the top of the page, in green felt marker, was the message: "Thought you might enjoy this! -- Bill."
So there you have it. If I'm ever in the audience of The David Letterman Show, I'll have a "brush with greatness" anecdote to relate.
Mike Chabon, though, he fills us in on Bill Gaines, but we're on our own to determine the significance of, say, Pieter Breughel.
Now here's the part I know you've been anxiously waiting for: MORE WORDS DAVE DIDN'T KNOW!
Tell me honestly, do you guys know all these words? Are regular, real, non-Pulitzer-prize winning people familiar and comfortable with vocabulary like this? 'Cuz I swear to (insert humorously non-offensive deified something to which one might swear), if most people, or many people, or even any people other than writers with a T-1 hardwired connection to the Über-Ultra-Mondo-Mega-Thesaurus-Two-Trill
(Note: * indicates word not found in standard on-line dictionary)
Sources: AskOxford.com and TheFreeDictionary.com
kohled - A cosmetic preparation, such as powdered antimony sulfide, used especially in the Middle East to darken the rims of the eyelids. [In other words, eye-liner.]
Topkapi - a palace in Istanbul.
Szymanowski* - Early 20th-century Polish pianist, composer, and novelist who, in his mid-30s, pursued a romance with a 15-year old boy. [Source: Wikipedia.org]
peroration - To speak at great length, often in a grandiloquent manner; declaim.
fureate* - chemical compound used in the treatment of abscesses of the liver.
recherche - 1. Uncommon; rare. 2. Exquisite; choice. 3. Overrefined; forced. 4. Pretentious; overblown. [Italics added. ]
animadversion - 1. Strong criticism. 2. A critical or censorious remark.
ruelle - A private circle or assembly at a private house; a circle. [What's wrong with... driveway?]
taboret - 1. A low stool without a back or arms. 2. A low stand or cabinet. 3. An embroidery frame.
Tartarus - 1. In Greek Mythology: The abysmal regions below Hades where the Titans were confined. 2. An infernal region; hell. [Why the hell couldn't he have just written hell?]
Breughelian* - pertaining to or resembling the works of Breughel, a Flemish painter of landscapes (1525-1569). [For the purposes of this novel, the significance is that Breughel's work often incorporated elements of sequential visualization.]
satrap - A subordinate bureaucrat or official.
rubicund - of a healthy, ruddy hue or appearance
Auden & Isherwood* - Mid-20th-century English poets who "maintained a sexual friendship in intervals between their relations with others." [Source: Wikipedia.org]
probity - Complete and confirmed integrity; uprightness.
numinous - 1. Of or relating to a numen; supernatural. 2. Filled with or characterized by a sense of a supernatural presence: a numinous place. 3. Spiritually elevated; sublime. [A numen is a presiding divinity or spirit of a place, or creative energy; genius.]
grampus - 1. A cetacean (Grampus griseus) related to and resembling the dolphins but lacking a beaklike snout. 2. Any of various similar cetaceans, such as the killer whale. [Why couldn't he just say porpoise?]
tullage* - [I could not find this word at all. Tull is defined as to allure; to tole. Perhaps tullage, then, means alluring or decorative properties.]
parbuckle - 1. A rope sling for rolling cylindrical objects up or down an inclined plane. 2. A sling for raising or lowering an object vertically.
aubergine - eggplant; a blackish-purple color.
arras - 1. A wall hanging; a tapestry. 2. A curtain or wall hanging, especially one of Flemish origin. [Or, apparently, coins or tokens with religious inscriptions of good luck or blessing, often distributed at weddings.]
Erinyes - Female personification of vengeance, in Greek mythology. Aka Furies in Roman myth.
trayf - Not kosher.
bricoleur* - A bricoleur is a person who creates things from existing materials, is creative and resourceful: a person who collects information and things and then puts them together in a way that they were not originally designed to do. [Dude, the English word is Macgyver. It's both a noun and a verb, now.]
Facteur Cheval* - French mailman who built a palace out of stones he picked up along his postal route. [Now I'm kicking myself for giving up my postal career. Plus, I gotta see this place!]
Joseph Cornell* - Mid-20th century New York artist who lived at home with his mother and handicapped brother and manufactured "assemblages," or boxes with broken bits of pretty things glued inside them, which he sent to Hollywood starlets. [By comparison, my spelling bee girl fetish seems pretty innocuous, doesn't it?]
estrous - Of, relating to, or being in estrus. [Oh, gee, now it's just crystal clear! Thank you so much, TheFreeDictionary.com! Further research suggests the colloquial slang equivalent would be horny. And you read this book, Kendra?? ]
philippic - A verbal denunciation characterized by harsh, often insulting language; a tirade.
viridian - A durable bluish-green pigment.
senescent - Growing old; aging.
nystagmus - A rapid, involuntary, oscillatory motion of the eyeball.
strabismus - A visual defect in which one eye cannot focus with the other on an object because of imbalance of the eye muscles.
revenant - 1. One that returns after a lengthy absence. 2. One who returns after death. [I thought perhaps I'd heard this in a horror movie context.]
febrile - Of, relating to, or characterized by fever; feverish.
orotund - 1. Pompous and bombastic. 2. Full in sound; sonorous. [As appears in this text, sonorous.]
lacunae - (pl) An empty space or a missing part; a gap.
defenestration - An act of throwing someone or something out of a window.
renascent - Showing renewed growth or vigor.
lucubrations - 1. Laborious study or meditation. 2. Writing produced by laborious effort or study, especially pedantic or pretentious writing. [Italics added. ]
purblind - Having poor vision; nearly or partly blind.
immurrement - To confine within or as if within walls; imprison. To entomb in a wall. [Misspelled in text; has only one r.]
prolix - 1. Tediously prolonged; wordy. 2. Tending to speak or write at excessive length.
oppugned - To oppose, contradict, or call into question.
tzigane* - Generic European term for "gypsy."
... and finally...
aetataureate* - "Of or pertaining to a golden age; coined as a nonce-word by Michael Chabon, in the phrase: the usual hallmark of the aetataureate delusion." [Source: Answers.com.]
WHAT THE F... err... I mean, WHAT THE ESTROUS TARTARUS?!? HE MADE UP HIS OWN STINKING WORDS! How am I, as a reader, supposed to know what in the slithy toves this brillig borogrove is mimsying on about when he makes up his own frumious words!? What did people do when the book first came out, before Answers.com had, like, the answer?? Or do really smart people, like them what reads the New York Times Review of Books and Harry Potter Spoilers, just already know this stuff because they were blessed to be born smart, rich, beautiful, and residents of Metropolis?