Books in the Club: Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

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"It doesn't really seem to have anything to do with your characters.  I mean, it's beautiful writing, amazingly beautiful, but ... And all that about the town cemetery? All the headstones, and their inscriptions, and the bones and bodies underneath them? And the part about their different guns in the cabinet in the old house? And the geneologies of their horses? And ---" She caught herself devolving into simple litany and broke off.

The conversation quoted here is one between Grady Tripp, the protagonist in Wonder Boys, an aging writer and teacher of creative writing, and his young student and tenant.  They are discussing his unfinished new novel, and, I think, really getting at the heart of this book.  This is the fourth of Chabon's books that I have read, and my least favorite.  It is, in my opinion, the most personal, even though I  have read his college of essays Manhood for Amateurs. 

The quote above seems to belie the personal nature of Chabon's writing here, and the struggle he seems to be having coming into his own as a writer, while also offering a critique of the type of postmodern writer that he doesn't want to be, but perhaps sees himself becoming.  Chabon is, after all, a writer known for lengthy, quantifying description (12 page sentence?).  However, those descriptions are what makes Chabon wonderful, and those abilities are in their infancy here. 

There are some descriptions that hint at the stylistic ability that Chabon is clearly capable of; for example, when he describes the dropped pages of his novel as "kittens" rubbing against Grady's legs.  However, he isn't yet capable of the mastery that he shows in something like Telegraph Avenue.  However, I think that he is the kind of writer he critiques, but also the kind of writer that fully develops character, and tells a story.  Like in his other books, some of the plot points were a bit unbelievable, not subtle, or too cinematic for my taste (which is Wonder Boys made a great movie). Chabon is a great teacher of writers through his writing, and this book serves as a great metaphor for that pursuit.  Overall, this book is always readable, sometimes wonderful, but not yet the Chabon that I really love to read.

Title: Wonder Boys
Author: Michael Chabon
Publisher: Picador
Date: 1995

368 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it


  1. Hmmmmm... I read Wonder Boys and remember liking it, but it's been a good ten years. Time for a reread!

    1. I liked it too, but in a kind of "meh" way.


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