This Day In Literary History
On September 19th, 2000, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the famous American writer Michael Chabon, was published.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay opens in 1939. Josef "Joe" Kavalier, a 19-year-old Jewish Czech refugee, arrives in New York City to live with relatives, including his seventeen-year-old cousin, Sammy Klayman.
Joe is a talented artist, Sammy an aspiring writer. Both have an interest in magic and connections to the legendary magician Harry Houdini, whose real name was Ehrich Weiss. Sammy's father used to be a vaudeville strongman called the Mighty Molecule.
When Joe gets a job as an illustrator for a novelty company, the job takes him in a different direction: the company wants to get into the comic book business after the huge success of Superman ushered in the golden age of comics.
Joe and Sammy, who has taken the pen name Sammy Clay, form a team where Sammy writes adventure stories and Joe illustrates them. The pair creates an antifascist superhero called The Escapist, and the company they work for reluctantly agrees to publish their comics.
The Escapist becomes a hit, but the cousins' contract only pays them a minimal royalty. They are slow to realize that they're being screwed because they're both caught up in personal problems.
While Joe is desperate to get his family out of Nazi-occupied Prague, Sammy grapples with his sexual identity, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he might be gay. Meanwhile, Joe falls in love with a bohemian artist named Rosa Saks.
Distraught over his failure to save his family from the Nazis, Joe runs off to join the Navy. Instead of fighting the Nazis, he is stationed at a remote naval base in Antarctica. He doesn't know that he left Rosa pregnant with his child.
After the war ends, Joe is discharged from the Navy and returns to New York, but is unable to face Rosa and Sammy, so he hides out in the Empire State Building. Meanwhile, Sammy married Rosa to save her from scandal.
When Sammy's not helping Rosa raise their son Tommy, he's involved in a gay affair with actor Tracy Bacon, who plays his superhero, The Escapist, on the radio. The two men go to a dinner party with their gay friends and other couples, and the party is raided.
Local police and two off-duty FBI agents round up everyone except for Sammy and another man who managed to hide under the table. The FBI agents ultimately catch them and offer them their freedom in exchange for sexual favors.
After that close call, Sammy concentrates on helping Rosa raise Tommy and trying to appear as a traditional family, but they can't hide their secrets from the precocious boy who loves them both.
Tommy is reunited with his long lost father Joe at the Empire State Building and takes magic lessons from him. The boy determines to reunite the legendary team of Kavalier & Clay, and he does.
Happy to see each other again, the cousins decide to make their comeback in comics. Joe moves in with Sammy, Rosa, and Tommy, and just when it seems like their lives are finally getting back on track, Sammy is publicly outed - on television - when he appears before then Senator Estes Kefauver's notorious Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.
(In 1954, in response to skyrocketing juvenile delinquency rates in the U.S., since it's never good politics to blame parents and teachers or examine the lack of mental health services and social programs, the SSJD held hearings where comic books were blamed for juvenile delinquency. This resulted in the imposition of the Comics Code and decades of stifling censorship of comics.)
That's just a threadbare outline of this epic novel, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel was supposed to be adapted as a feature film, but the project keeps slipping through the Hollywood cracks.
A screenplay was completed in 2002 and an excerpt from it was published in Entertainment Weekly, but the film never got past the pre-production stage. Two years later, Michael Chabon pronounced the project dead.
Then, in 2005, director Stephen Daldry announced that he was going to make the film. With Tobey Maguire and Jamie Bell cast as Sammy and Joe, and Natalie Portman as Rosa, it seemed a done deal.
This time, the film didn't even get to pre-production. In April of 2007, Chabon said that the project "just completely went south for studio-politics kinds of reasons that I'm not privy to... right now, as far as I know, there's not a lot going on."
In an interview conducted in December of 2011, Stephen Daldry stated that he hadn't given up on adapting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and was looking to adapt the novel as a TV miniseries, preferably for HBO.
In 2019, Michael Chabon signed a deal with CBS TV to adapt it as a Showtime miniseries. The following year, he and his wife Ayelet Waldman began writing the script for what he believes will be a two season, sixteen-episode miniseries, but it hasn't been produced yet.
Quote Of The Day
"You need three things to become a successful novelist: talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two."
- Michael Chabon
Today's video features Michael Chabon discussing his classic novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay at the Dominican University of California in 2010. Enjoy!