Lou escapes to tropical resort for sordid weekend with Pulitzer-winner

Posted by Lou. The time is 1.45pm here in London, UK.

Title by Bel, book review by Lou.

I love Michael Chabon. I have Bel to thank for this, as it was here who urged me to read his Pulitzer-winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Since then I've gotten through half of his brilliant contribution to contemporary literature, and enjoyed every minute. Of them all, this is definitely one of my favourites. His prose is absolute perfection - every sentence is like a mini work of art. You don't read his books for the plot - you read it for his words, his vivid characters (that you really think he cares for - none of this "convenience to the plot" shit), the world of the story, and glorious pleasure of reading the best-of-the-best (of-the-best-of-the-best) of contemporary writing. He is witty, self-deprecating, empathetic, sympathetic, and so very intelligent, but intelligent in a way that makes you think he's probably a loveable, down-to-earth guy who just wants you to like his writing... and happens to be a fucken genius. I love him.

This novel features three cathartic days in the life of some particularly eccentric characters - even by Chabon standards - but characters that nonetheless feel real. Our primary focus is Grady Tripp (oh God, that is such a great name for a protagonist!), a novelist who has been writing the difficult "follow-up to a success" book The Wonder Boys for seven years - as you can imagine it has run out of control into the thousands of pages and he knows underneath it all that it'll never be finished, but he just can't quite give it up. His editor/ best friend arrives in town wanting to see the novel, on his arm a transvestite he met on the plane, somehow a tuba becomes involved, his love-life explodes in several different ways, he finds one of his students about to top himself, and things rollick along from there.

The whole thing - of course, how else could it be so witty and wonderful? - emerged from Chabon's own experiences of writing the follow-up novel (to his successful Mysteries of Pittsburgh) Fountain City, which over 5-years spiralled out of control. Let's allow wiki and Chabon to elaborate:

At one point , Chabon submitted a 672-page draft to his agent and editor, who disliked the work. Chabon had problems dropping the novel, though. "It was really scary," he said later. "I'd already signed a contract and been paid all this money. And then I'd gotten a divorce and half the money was already with my ex-wife. My instincts were telling me, This book is fucked. Just drop it. But I didn't, because I thought, What if I have to give the money back?" ... "I used to go down to my office and fantasize about all the books I could write instead.

When he finally decided to abandon Fountain City, Chabon recalls staring at his blank computer for hours, before suddenly picturing "a 'straitlaced, troubled young man with a tendency toward melodrama' trying to end it all." He began writing, and within a couple of days, had written 50 pages of what would become his second novel, Wonder Boys. Chabon drew on his experiences with Fountain City for the character of Grady Tripp, a frustrated novelist who has spent years working on an immense fourth novel. The author wrote Wonder Boys in a dizzy seven-month streak, without telling his agent or publisher he'd abandoned Fountain City. The book, published in 1995, was a commercial and critical success.

Read this book. If you haven't read any Chabon, why not start chronilogically and fit in the short and sweet Mysteries of Pittsburgh (quickly, before the film comes out - and don't look up the cast, just read it), then move on to this glorious creature. After that you'll be ready for the big one - Kavalier and Clay.

A note on covers:
I buy most of my books on Amazon so have limited control over the covers, but if you do actual-physical-shop-buying I would recommend looking out for this range of Chabon covers because they are truly the most exquisite book covers you will ever see. I am the proud owner of three of them (unfortunately not Kavalier and Clay, darnit). They are embossed and absolutely gorgeous. Bel also gave me a gorgeous Mysteries of Pittsburgh in another brilliant style, but I haven't seen any of its companions so aren't sure if it's a series or was a one-off. Either way, just don't buy the frickin' film version or both of us will hunt you down and throw it into a fire.

4 thoughts on “Lou escapes to tropical resort for sordid weekend with Pulitzer-winner”

  1. I have NO recollection of gifting you Mysteries of Pittsburgh! But am glad to hear I am such a nice friend. What cover does it have though?? You can't (pretty much) review it and then leave us hanging.

    My copy of Kavalier and Clay has this cover which I really like because it is in keeping with the time period - and the spine is made to look like you have a stack of comics on your shelf!

    I am so pleased the book is another Chabon classic. But how does it rate as a 'sordid weekend beach read'? E.g. MoP I would recommend for such a purpose, but probably not AAoK&C. Where does WB fit??

  2. Let's try that again with functioning links...

    I also covet the comic book K&C cover, especially as I got this dumb one: K&C

    You gave me this gorgeous specimen, and I think even wrote an inscription: MofP

    I would rate it as not necessarily a sordid beach read (review of that coming up), but perhaps a nice by-the-pool or in-the-garden read. Definitely befitting summer and holidays, though. (Whereas for me K&C is a winter nights read.)