The Chutzpah of Hope, or Why Michael Chabon May Just Be the Perfect Writer for the Obama Age


Kathryn Schulz in New York Magazine:

Telegraph Avenue is about these two men, their families, and the rec­ord store they own, which is to say that it’s about black-white relations in America, the fate of small businesses, and the failure of fathers to stick around and raise their sons. No wonder the Obama appearance feels so right.

But there is another, deeper reason the cameo belongs in this book. In the 2004 speech that made Obama famous, he asked America a question: “Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?” As a novelist, Michael Chabon is preoccupied with fallibility and weakness and, in the broadest sense, infidelity — our chronic failure to keep faith with each other and ourselves. Over and over, his books tell the story of the huge bang, short half-life, and inexorable decay of our dreams. And yet they are more buoyant, more in love with life, than just about anything else in contemporary American literature: escape artists in themselves, utterly unchainable by cynicism or despair. Chabon knows that whatever you are building is about to fall apart, but he will hand you the glue gun and say “Go for it.” Build and wreck and rebuild and re-wreck: That’s life, in the long view, and Chabon is a very patient man. Gonna keep on tryin’ / Till I reach my highest ground.

This is Chabon’s answer, in literary form, to Obama’s question to America. He does not have a solution to the problem of human fucked-up-ness. He does not believe that progress is inevitable, or that injustice can be ignored, or that we can outsource our issues to a higher power. He just has the very rare ability to sustain a non-naïve faith in goodness: ­vanilla without the vanilla. That requires a different kind of audacity, and more of it, than putting the president of the United States in the middle of your book. What Chabon has, to kinda quote that president, is the chutzpah of hope.