I recently had the opportunity to see Michael Chabon while he was touring to promote a new work, and replaced my lost copy of WONDER BOYS.
In WONDER BOYS, creative writing professor Grady Tripp finds himself in a mess of his own making, the result of his weaknesses. His wife just left him, the married woman with whom he’s having an affair is pregnant, and his editor is in town to see his new novel, WONDER BOYS, a massive 2,600-page manuscript Grady can’t seem to finish. As WordFest gets in full swing, he finds himself mixed up with a student who feels misunderstood and is contemplating suicide and, sensing a kindred spirit of sorts, tries to set him on the right path, though he’s hardly equipped for the task.
This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, a real feast for readers and writers, a character-driven and literary burn of a book. Grady’s chaotic slide is simultaneously absurd, humorous and poignant. Chabon has an incredible knack for rich detail, wonderful characterization and elegant prose that tickles your brain even as it scratches its itch. I’ve heard complaints that Chabon will use 50 words when 10 will do, but I find those words often say in 50 what might take others 200.
The narrative relentlessly shows Grady’s world falling apart with his seeming assistance, as he’s reached a point in his life where he knows who he is and that he’ll never change, but has gained sufficient insight and self-loathing to just let it all go. The result is beautiful, though a bit unsatisfying in the end as little gets resolved, particularly compared to the movie. The terrific film adaptation, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr., gets the point across much more neatly and ties everything up perfectly at the end.
If you’re a reader who loves rich prose, or a writer who wants to look in the mirror for an elegant reflection of your self-destructive urges, I highly recommend this book.