Thursday, November 4, 2010

Literary Bite: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

I wonder if Michael Chabon is as weird in real life as he is in his books? I read The Amazing Adventures of Kalvalier and Clay back in high school, and I remember loving it. Wonder Boys is my second Chabon attempt, and I liked it, but did not love it.

I felt like the story was slow to begin, like I was wondering for the first half, So what part of this is the actual plot?

For those of you who have read the book that may strike you as a surprising question – the books starts with a bang: a washed up author meets his friend and a cross dresser at the airport, is left by his wife, and takes said friend and cross dresser to a party at the home of his mistress. And that’s all in the first couple chapters!

So I guess my main critique is that Wonder Boys is a little too ridiculous. The way the characters act and the things they do…I mean I’m no 40-something pot-addict, so maybe I can’t pass judgment on what are realistic decisions? But they seem a bit excessive.

Regardless, Chabon’s writing style is amazing. His descriptions are so colorful and quirky, and his writing is funny. For example:

“His face as he examined the little black skullcap was at once dubious and respectful, as if Irv had handed him a miraculous tortilla on which the face of a saint was said to have appeared.”

Anyone who can use skullcap, saint, and tortilla in one coherent sentence deserves my respect!

Everyone seems to agree the book is a “modern classic,” and depending on who you ask it is a parody of the American fame factory,” “a story exploring the theme of the artist's isolation,” and “an amazing roller coaster tale.” I agree. And I’ll add that it is a book by a writer about a writer that is neither self-serving nor annoying.

This review notes that the story is “awfully male,” but that doesn’t stop it from being likeable and accessible to all readers.

"All male friendships are essentially quixotic: they last only so long as each man is willing to polish the shaving-bowl helmet, climb on his donkey, and ride off after the other in pursuit of illusive glory and questionable adventure."

I expect to get more insight about Wonder Boys when my book club discusses it this weekend - so far I know that LOTR-Emily loves it and LLC thinks it's been done (i.e. it has a very A Separate Peace/Holden Caufield/Dead Poet's Society feel).

And speaking of Dead Poet's Society, Wonder Boys is a movie too! More info here.