The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Michael Chabon, 2007

Hugo Winner - 2008

Premise: In the final days of Sitka before Reversion, a murder is committed, buried, and investigated. 

So I went into this book trying to give it a fair shake, even though the only thing I remember about reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (by the same author) was that I thought it was overrated. Now the main thing I'm going to remember about this book is that it's tedious.

It's an alternate-history murder mystery that wants to be in a hardboiled style, but the writing only occasionally comes within a glimpse of the cleverness of the greats in that genre. Mostly it's just too precious. One perceptive Goodreads review put it very well: "If he can come up with three ornamental ways to portray one thing, he includes all three of them in the book." And that person said they enjoyed the book. 

To be fair, I can currently only read books in short bursts, and this book was not well served by that. The descriptions were so lengthy and tedious that I started skimming them just so I could keep track of what was even happening (very little). If I weren't reading it for the Hugo project, I would have quit the book a dozen times over in the first half, which drags on and on setting up the situation and the character. I would say characters, but it's all about the main guy, even though after all that description I still don't feel like I know anything important about him (there's all this past trauma, but it's just not compelling) or care at all what happened to him. 

It's alternate history, and the world is really intriguing - but the world doesn't have any practical impact on the story. None of the interesting questions raised by the premise (what if the U.S. had let a few million Jewish refugees settle in Alaska in the 1940s) are actually addressed, in favor of a plot that's trying to blend a noir, a conspiracy novel, and a tiny minuscule bit of vaguely possible supernatural goings-on. (I also spent a third of the book wondering whether all alternate history novels should be eligible for the Hugo if this is.)

I guess it wasn't necessarily bad. It was occasionally even good. But I resent how long I spent reading it, only for it to just end in a big shrug. 

1 Star - Didn't Like It.  

 

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