Skip to main content

Wonder Boys

Review

Wonder Boys

"He's writing his
name in water...It was the half-regretful term --- borrowed from
the headstone of John Keats --- that Crabtree used to describe his
own and others' failures to express a literary gift through any
actual writing on paper. Some of them, he said, just told lies;
others wove plots out of the gnarls and elf knots of their lives
and then followed them through to resolution."

     

Like movies about the people who make movies, books about the
writing of books shouldn't really succeed. However, WONDER BOYS
does with flying colors. And Hollywood clearly has no ideas of its
own, because every book ever published is being made into a film.
With its recent opening as a Michael Douglas-starring flick of the
same name, those crazy dreammakers on the West Coast have really
picked a winner. Michael Chabon's wonderful WONDER BOYS is a book
chock full of eccentric humor, an actual plot, vivid and hilarious
characters, and a touching and heartfelt paean to the artist who
chooses to live in the real world along with the rest of us. WONDER
BOYS will surely be a good film, but it is a truly wondrous and
satisfying read.

Professor Grady Tripp has spent seven years trying to write the
follow-up to his enormously successful first novel. "Wonder Boys"
is now over two thousand pages long with no end in sight. Add to
this an eccentric gay agent who comes to visit with drag queen in
tow; a wife who has left; a mistress who is pregnant (and the
chancellor of the college where Grady teaches); a suicidal but
artistically promising young protege; a dead dog; and the winsome
girl-next-door who shares Grady's house, and you have a
hallucinogenic tome that employs both comedic and dramatic tones in
the best possible ways.

The action takes place over the course of a single weekend, and
Chabon is smart in keeping the time period short: so much happens
that, like a homecoming weekend or the weekend you got married, you
can hardly get to the next thing fast enough and, when it's all
over, you have to take a deep breath before realizing that the fact
that you're tired means that you had a good time. Chabon never
dazzles us unnecessarily with his punchy but elegant style, never
throws too much of a plot hook into the goings-on, doesn't
philosophize without reason. His is a remarkably efficient yet
windy and complex story. Unlike his first book THE MYSTERIES OF
PITTSBURGH (which I found to be pretty boring and not very rich),
WONDER BOYS is like a good Robert Altman film --- every character
has an arc that we can follow and, even when we think we're
confused, we're not. The plot unfolds slowly but purposefully and
we love, in equal measure, each of the characters we meet. Sure,
this is mostly Grady's story, but everyone else is so canny and
present that we can't keep our eyes or minds off any of them. And
the way in which they all end up being connected is truly original
and prescient of even greater potential to come from this young
author.

WONDER BOYS is sure to delight those who appreciate the wonderful
wacky worlds of John Irving or T.C. Boyle, and, being a huge fan of
both of those authors, I can think of no greater praise to heap on
Mr. Chabon than that. Write on, Michael! Can't wait for the next
book! Just don't get too "Grady" about it all and make us wait a
decade!

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 24, 2011

Wonder Boys
by Michael Chabon

  • Publication Date: December 15, 1995
  • Genres: Fiction, General Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312140940
  • ISBN-13: 9780312140946