As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there, longtime friends, band mates and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the sketchy yet freewheeling borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland, on the quintessential East Bay avenue that gives the book its title.
Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary nurse midwives who have welcomed, between them, more than a thousand little citizens into the world. Archy and Gwen are expecting their first baby; Nat and Aviva have a teenaged son, Julius.
When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fourth-richest black man in America, announces plans to go forward with the construction of his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby neglected stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. What they don't know is that Goode's announcement marks the climax of a decades-old secret history, encompassing a forgotten crime of the Black Panther era, the tragedy of Archy's own deadbeat father - a long-faded Blaxploitation star named Luther Stallings - and the perpetual shining failure of American optimism about race.
As their husbands struggle to mount a defense, at Berkeley Birth Partners Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to their already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenaged son Archy has never acknowledged, and the love of Julius Jaffe's life.
An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon's most dazzling book yet.