Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dress Down Sunday: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

published 1995


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES





Then I got up. I put on my eyeglasses, stepped into my moccasins, and tied on my lucky bathrobe, which made me feel somewhat better. Like most beloved items of clothing, this robe had once belonged to somebody else. I’d come upon it years ago, hanging in the upstairs closet of a beach house in Gearhart, Oregon, that Eva B. and I rented for a summer from a Portland family named Knopflmacher. It was an enormous white chenille number, threadbare at the elbows, with pink and red arrangements of embroidered geraniums on the pockets, and I didn’t have too much doubt that it had been Mrs. Knopflmacher’s. It had since become impossible for me to write wearing anything else. In one of its pockets I now found, to my delight, the charred half of a roach and a book of El Producto matches. I stood at the bedroom window, looking east, smoking the roach down to the last particle of ash and watching the sky for a hint of daylight.


observations: When I wrote last week's list of books-to-movies, I remembered just how wonderful this one was. 
It is an endlessly satisfying book, my favourite of all Michael Chabon’s excellent works. Ultimately, it might be the story of a man growing up (eventually, belatedly), and Grady Tripp is such a well-rounded character he has even written his own books, and featured on this blog in his own right (but note the date).

I love too his friend Terry Crabtree (so perfectly portrayed by Robert Downey Jr in the 2000 film of the book), the book editor whose publisher employer has just been taken over:
“I guess I don’t fit the new corporate profile.”
“Which is?”
“Competence.”
-- and his ‘patent but, as ever, somehow credible insincerity.’

Grady Tripp says he is ‘an unsuccessful, overweight ex–wonder boy with a pot habit and a dead dog in the trunk of my car’, but Chabon is the real wonder boy with this laugh-out-loud funny book, entertaining, sparkling, but telling a very real story about the lives of modern Americans, and writers, and academics.

There is a literary party at Tripp’s house:
there were so many Pittsburgh poets in my hallway that if, at that instant, a meteorite had come smashing through my roof, there would never have been another stanza written about rusting fathers and impotent steelworks and the Bessemer converter of love.
Chabon has managed to write a campus novel about a writer and make it fresh and un-self-indulgent, mostly because he is unsparing with Grady Tripp, and his book with ‘whole chapters that go for thirty and forty pages with no characters at all,’ and his falling under the spell of ‘Jack Kerouac and his free-form Arthurian hobo jazz, with all its dangerous softheartedness and poor punctuation.’

It is plainly true that the bathrobe above looks nothing like the one Grady describes, but I like the picture, and I like the idea of a lucky bathrobe. This one is from an advert of the 1930s.

There's another entry on Wonder Boys here

13 comments:

  1. I have Wonder Boys in dvd format on reserve at the library now.

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    1. I hope you'll lenjoy it! It's very weird, but very funny.

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  2. Moira - What a great description of that bathrobe. And so human too! I think a lot of us have those 'lucky' things. And the wit, even in the small bits you've shared, really sounds great. It sounds offbeat, but in a very good way.

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    1. Yes, that's a very good description Margot. And I very much liked the idea of a lucky bathrobe. As you say, many of us can empathize - even if it's a sweater, or a throw, or socks...

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  3. I suppose I will find out soon enough (next year at least) what Chabon books I have. Glad to say I have no more Kerouac!

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    1. Chabon over Kerouac any time. And you might just like him. I'll be interested to see what books by him you might have tucked away in the Col Stacks.

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  4. Moira, some authors like Michael Chabon have eluded me though for no fault of theirs. I know he is a terrific writer. A funny, entertaining, and sparkling story about modern Americans, writers, and academics sounds really very interesting and right up my alley.

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    1. Prashant, I wonder if you would like his book Kavalier and Clay - it is a great big fascinating book, very much linked up with the world of comic books.

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    2. Moira, thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.

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  5. I do want to read Wonder Boys, someday. The robe advertisement is very cool.

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    1. I think you'd like him. I recommend Kavalier & Clay to Prashant above, and I also really liked The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which is a kind of noir-ish alternative history thriller.

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    2. I have read The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which I liked a lot, and that is the reason I think I would like other books of his. I also read an interesting interview where he talks about the bias against genre fiction.

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    3. He always sounds like a really interesting and nice man in interviews I think.

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