The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

In New York Magazine, Sam Anderson reviews Michael Chabon’s new novel.

If you should ever have the good fortune to match wits with me in a game of chess—and if so, let me congratulate you here in advance on what will surely be one of the more confidence-boosting episodes of your life—you’ll find that, as soon as we’ve exchanged our rooks and bishops and knights, and our queens have committed mutual regicide, and we’re left with a handful of pawns and kings scattered over the board like loose change, something curious will happen: My life force— the potent concoction of vim, vigor, piss, vinegar, and other vital fluids that I’ve been spritzing your way all game in an effort to distract you from my blunders—will drain out of me and soak into the carpet, and I’ll get sullen, and refuse to move, and then make long enthusiastic speeches in sign language in an attempt to knock over the board, and after a while, if the game keeps going, I’ll consciously slow my heart rate until I slip into a vegetative state. Your best course of action, when this happens, is just to tip my king over and tell me the next day that I did it myself, and then to help yourself to the contents of my wallet. I’ll pay you the rest in a couple of months.

I offer this unsolicited tutorial for a couple of reasons. First, because Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—an excellent, hyperliterate, genre-pantsing detective novel that deserves every inch of its impending blockbuster superfame—is largely about chess, in particular the game’s knack for snagging people in its cold little gears and grinding all the spirit out of them.