Andrew O'Hehir in Salon:
If you’ve ever lived in Berkeley, Calif., that much-ridiculed college town on the eastern shores of San Francisco Bay, or even visited the place, you probably have highly specific associations with Telegraph Avenue, a historic street of political protests and retail commerce (legal and otherwise) that dead-ends against the University of California campus at Sather Gate. Michael Chabon’s new novel is pointedly not about that Telegraph Avenue, and its characters have no relationship to the university campus or to the 1960s explosion of left-wing activism that made Berkeley internationally famous – and, briefly, in my childhood, the locus of martial law as ordered by the governor of California, Ronald Reagan.
Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue” calls our attention, literally and figuratively, to the other end of the street, where Telegraph crosses the city line and becomes the main drag of the Temescal district, a racially and economically mixed neighborhood in northwest Oakland. That’s where Archy Stallings, a 36-year-old African-American Gulf War vet who is the novel’s central character, and his Jewish partner Nat Jaffe (whose background resembles Chabon’s own) are not so slowly running a vintage vinyl emporium called Brokeland Records into the ground. It’s the summer of 2004, and a wealthy former NFL star and Oakland native, Gibson “G-Bad” Goode, is planning to open an immense new retail-entertainment complex – called, wonderfully, the “Dogpile Thang” – four blocks away, applying the coup de grace to Archy and Nat’s failing business.