Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade), 368 pages, 1995

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: Loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay; seeing the movie version of Wonder Boys reminded me it was on my to-be-read list.

Synopsis: What do copious amounts of marijuana, a weird movie-obsessed student, a transvestite-chasing editor, Marilyn Monroe, a dead dog, and a number of affairs have in common? Grady Tripp would argue that they’re all preventing him from finishing the novel he’s been writing for seven years, but the journey this strange collection of events leads him on will force him to question the real sources of his problems.

Why you should read this book: While not a particularly fast-paced author, Chabon has great abilities for drawing in his readers with a mix of intriguing characters and hilariously bizarre situations. Grady, often a great, bumbling jerk, is written with such sympathy that the reader is able to see why women love him despite his boldly written flaws. James Leer, one of Grady’s students, is a sharp and funny addition to Grady’s adventures, as is his old friend and editor, Crabtree.

Why you should avoid this book: There are spots where the story drags, like when Grady visits his in-laws for Passover, but the story flows well for the most part.

Opening paragraph:

The first real writer I ever knew was a man who did all of his work under the name of August Van Zorn. He lived at the McClelland Hotel, which my grandmother owned, in the uppermost room of its turret, and taught English literature at Coxley, a small college on the other side of the minor Pennsylvania river that split our town in two. His real name was Albert Vetch, and in his field, I believe, was Blake; I remember he kept a framed print of the Ancient of Days affixed to the faded flocked wallpaper of his room, above a stoop-shouldered wooden suit rack that once belonged to my father. Mr Vetch’s wife had been living in a sanitorium up near Erie since the deaths of their teenaged sons in a backyard explosion some years earlier, and it was always my impression that he wrote, in part, to earn the money to keep her there. He wrote horror stories, hundreds of them, many of which were eventually published, in such periodicals of the day as Weird Tales, Strange Stories, Black Tower, and the like.

Fabulous quotes:

The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at every conscious moment its victim – even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon – feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbors soundly sleep. This is in my opinion why writers – like insomniacs – are so accident-prone, so obsessed with the calculus of bad luck and missed opportunities, so liable to rumination and a concomitant inability to let go of a subject, even when urged repeatedly to do so.

‘The telephone sounded its mad alarm, and I limped slowly out to meet it.
‘It’s me,’ said Sara. ‘Oh, Grady, I’m so glad you’re there. So many bad things are happening at once.’

‘Could you just hold on a minute, honey?’ I said, before I hung up the phone. I walked back into my office, and switched off the television.
‘How about we get the fuck out of here?’ I said.

Also recommended: The World According to Garp by John Irving; High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

Also by this author: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union; Werewolves in Their Youth; A Model World and Other Stories; The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; Summerland; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay; Mcsweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories; The Final Solution: A Story of Detection.

Author’s website: michaelchabon.com

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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