Q: Which brings us to the topic of nostalgia. Your book is set in the present, and your characters have an appreciation for the music — and the cars — of 40 years ago. There's a scene in which the narrator says of some collecting cards that a character named Mr. Nostalgia is selling, "They were worth only what you would pay for them; what small piece of everything you had ever lost that, you might come to believe, they would restore to you."
Q: Sounds like Proust.
A: Right, except that it doesn't have to be your own past. It's not merely your personal history in the Proustian sense, where your childhood is summoned by the madeleine in the spoonful of tea. When a building is torn down, and on the side of the building next to it is suddenly revealed a painted advertisement for a horse stable that used to be on that spot, you get that immediate, intense encounter with a surprise survivor from the past, almost as if a time capsule has been opened. That's what I'm talking about in the book — a sense that something wondrous has survived, and it brings it all back to you, even if you never experienced it in the first place.
A: (Laughs.) What was it that made you feel that way?
Q: It was a combination of things: the music, the cars, the geography. Also the characters have a somewhat self-conscious way of speaking that I associate with Tarantino. I'm thinking you're familiar with his work.
A: You bet. I'm a fan. I think the answer is that he and I are almost exactly the same age. We both grew up as white boys fascinated by, steeped in and attracted to black popular culture — music, movies, television performers, athletes. ... He's been incorporating elements of it from "Pulp Fiction" to "Kill Bill," including "Jackie Brown," which I think is still his best movie.
Q: There's a flashback scene in the book — where Luther and his buddy Chan spend a fair amount of time discussing what the word "Toronado" means. It's the kind of conversation you'd have in a Tarantino movie.
A: Yes, but — and I don't mean this as any kind of a knock on Tarantino — it might seem like they're having a time-wasting discussion, but it's not just that. Luther is about to embark on an exciting chapter in his life, and Chan is feeling very envious of his friend, who just laid down $3,000 cash for a really sweet Toronado. So really it's about Chan taunting Luther because he resents the fact that he doesn't have a Toronado of his own.
A: Wouldn't that be cool, though?
Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance writer.
By Michael Chabon, Harper, 480 pages, $27.99