Let me start by pointing out that I did not put this book on either my race shelf or my class-poverty shelf because, while Chabon spends a lot of time ranting about both race and poverty, he doesn't really say much about any of it. The whole book felt a lot like Luther's rant on the migration of blacks to Oakland in the early railroad days as a function of their employment by Pullman.
Second, let me announce that I like Michael Chabon. I enjoyed Kavalier and Klay, was entertained by (but not really enamored with) Summerland, and loved Manhood for Amateurs. I was looking forward to this novel and so maybe my 2 star rating has something to do with disappointment as well as pure objective criticism.
Just as K&K is comic-book style, in Telegraph Ave Chabon takes on the tone of a blaxplotation movie. This novel is written (in part) as a bad mid-1970s kung fu production. Complete with the attention to costuming, Chabon tries to emulate what I have to assume is one of his favorite genres. And, admitedly it is not mine (so maybe part of my low rating is just because the topic did not appeal).
But mostly, I found the novel to be overwritten (and yes, masturbatory in the sense that I mean the author is just spewing his stuff at me) and boring. An example of this (the attempt to be cute, while really ending up just overblown) would be: "The world of car shows had always felt like a kind of true fellowship to Mr. Nostalgia, a league of solitary men united in their pursuit of the lost glories of a vanished world. Now that vision struck him as pie in the sky at best and as falsehood at the very worst. The past was irretrieveable, the league of lonely men a fiction, the pursuit of the past a doomed attempt to run a hustle on mortality."
As always, I found the novel to be full of conveniences. This is Oakland (to which I have not been, but am under the impression since it does house a professional football team that it is bigger than small town American) and yet, the main characters are a)constantly running into each other and b)totally and completely interrelated. I found the convenience of Nat/Archy and Aviva/Gwen's partnerships to be unbelievable and annoying. I thought that it was borderline ridiculous that Titus is the one who pushes Gwen away from the bus just moments before Garth appears and flips her off. Archy shows up at Luther's hiding place (which also happens to be the garage he frequents anyway) because a customer calls to report that Julie gave his business card to a spooked taxi driver. WTF? How involved are these people? And really, the cab driver tells his boss, who recognizes the name and then calls Archy (and not Nat) and Archy drives down there all within 20 minutes of the cab leaving them? My last beef was that the record store becomes a card store (not really much of a change, which I hope was one of the points), but of course it is Mr. Nostalgia who helped Luther in the beginning....again this world is way too small!
Overall, I did not find it to be worth the time.