Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Trade paperback, 368 pages
Picador, 1995
ISBN-13: 9780312140946
very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Grady Tripp is a middle-aged philandereer with a penchant for pot and failed marriages, who is unable to complete the long-awaited follow-up to his award-winning novel. HIs brilliant student James Leer is a troubled young writer obsessed with Hollywood suicides and prone to fabrication and petty thievery. In their odyssey through the streets of Pittsburgh, Grady andJames are joined by Grady's pregnant mistress, his hilariously bizarre editor and an achingly beautiful student lodger. The result is a wildly comic, poignantly movig and ultimately profound search for past promisess, future fame and a purpose to Grady's life.
My Thoughts:

Wonder Boys is an early Chabon novel that is now considered a modern classic. It is also thoroughly enjoyable, especially because of Chabon's deft writing. Really, it's worth reading for the writing alone. Read the quotes below and while doing so understand that I had to make myself stop or I would have quoted page after page. Wonder Boys is an insightful, comical paraody of American literary fame and desire. It is populated with unforgettable characters, scenes, and action. Apparently Wonder Boys was made into a movie, but I haven't seen it.
Very Highly Recommended


I say that Albert Vetch was the first real writer I knew not because he was, for a while, able to sell his work to magazines, but because he was the first one to have the midnight disease; to have the rocking chair and the faithful bottle of bourbon and the staring eye, lucid with insomnia even in the daytime. In any case he was, now that I consider it, the first writer of any sort to cross my path, real or otherwise, in a life that has on the whole been a little too crowded with representatives of that sour and squirrelly race. He set an example that, as a writer, I've been living up to ever since. I only hope that I haven't invented him.
The story - and the stories - of August Van Zorn were in my thoughts that friday when I drove out to the airport to meet Crabtree's plane. It was impossible for me to see Terry Crabtree without remembering those fey short stories, since our long friendship had been founded, you might say, on August Van Zorn's obscurity, on the very, abject failure that helped crumple the spirit of a man whom my grandmother used to compare to a broken umbrella. pg. 5

The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite. I had too much to write: too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming, too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within, too many terrible genetic and fiduciary secrets to dig up and bury and dig up again, too many divorces to grant, heirs to disinherit, trysts to arrange, letters to misdirect into evil hands, innocent children to slay with rheumatic fever, women to leave unfulfilled and hopeless, men to drive to adultry and theft, fires to ignite at the hearts of ancient houses. pg. 12

It was in this man's class that I began to wonder if people who wrote fiction were not suffering from some kind of disorder - from what I've since come to think of, remembering the wild nocturnal rocking of Albert Vetch, as the midnight disease. 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. pg. 20

The overcoat was a trademark of his. It was an impermeable thrift-shop special with a plaid flannel lining and wide lapels, and it looked as though it had been trying for many years to keep the rain off the stooped shoulders of a long series of hard cases, drifters, and ordinary bums. It emitted an odor of bus station so desolute that just standing next to him you could feel your luck changing for the worse. pg. 47

No comments: