The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel by Michael Chabon (New York: HarperCollins, 2007. 464 pp)
Sitka: In Memoriam
Detectives Investigate Murders
|Photo by Harvey Barrison|
A hard-boiled, noirish thriller, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union explores an alternate history of Alaska. The principle character, Meyer Landsman, is a Jewish homicide detective from Sitka, Alaska. Landsman is a divorced, depressed policeman who self-medicates with alcohol and throws himself into homicide cases with reckless abandon.
What Would Happen If Israel Didn’t Exist?
“Landsman straps an extra clip to his belt and drives out to the north end, past Halibut Point, where the city sputters and the water reaches across the land like the arm of a policeman. Just off the Ickes Highway, the wreck of a shopping center marks the end of the dream of Jewish Sitka. The push to fill every space from here to Yakovy with the Jews of the world gave out in this parking lot. There was no Permanent Status, no influx of new jewflesh from the bitter corners and dark alleys of Diaspora. The planned housing developments remain lines on blue paper, encumbering some steel drawer” (179).
A Character on the Verge
“Landsman, the son and paternal grandson of suicides, has seen human beings dispatch themselves in every possible way, from the inept to the efficient. He knows how it should and should not be performed. Bridge leaps and dives from hotel windows: picturesque but iffy. Stairwell leaps: unreliable, an impulse decision, too much like an accidental death. Slashing wrists, with or without the popular but unnecessary bathtub variation: harder than it seems, tinged with girlish love of theater. Ritual disembowelment with a samurai sword: hard work, requires a second, and would smack, in a yid of affectation. Landsman has never seen it done that way, but he knew a noz once who claimed that he had. Landsman’s grandfather threw himself under the wheels of a streetcar in Lodz, which showed a degree of determination that Landsman has always admired. His father employed thirty 100 mg tablets of Mebutal, washed down with a glass of caraway vodka, a method that has much to recommend it. Add a plastic bag over the head, capacious and free of holes, and you have yourself something neat, quiet, and reliable.
But when he envisions taking his own life, Landsman likes to do it with a handgun, like Melekh Gaystik, the champion of the world. His own chopped Model 39 is more than enough sholem for the job. If you know where to put the muzzle (just inside the angle of the mentum) and how to steer your shot (20 degrees off the vertical, toward the lizard core of the brain), it’s fast and reliable. Messy, but Landsman doesn’t have any qualms, for some reason, about leaving behind a mess” (153-154).
A Wrench in the Case
|Photo by Eric Gjerde|
Despite the absorbing character of Landsman, I found The Yiddish Policemen’s Union a somewhat difficult read. As mentioned earlier, I began the book without knowing the alternative history of Alaska. As such, my view of Alaska combatted the view in the book for the first 100 pages as I attempted to understand the strange setting.