Casey's Reviews > Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
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Mar 10, 2010

really liked it
Read in March, 2010

I'm working my way thru Michael Chabon, and since I'd seen and liked the movie of Wonder Boys many years ago, I made this my next read. It's typical Chabon, which means that his wordiness is sometimes beautiful and sometimes, well, just wordy.
Wonder Boys refers to the title of the main character's novel and most the wandering characters that populate his life. Grady Tripp is an aging pothead, a one-time literary wunderkind who has become lost in the maze of his seven-years-in-the-making next novel. It's thousands of pages long and he doesn't even feel half done. He's been cheating on his third wife for five years with the Dean of the college, and as the novel opens the wife has finally figured that out and blown town. The lithesome young boarder who lives in Tripp's basement is hitting on him. His editor, long-time best friend, and moral gray-zone extraordinaire, Terry Crabtree, is in town to tell Tripp that their publisher has fired him. The final piece of this pot-fueled puzzle is James Leer, whom Tripp discovers alone in the backyard of the Dean's house, nothing to his name but a gun and a first novel. This cast of characters is the strong suit of the book, and really of all of Chabon's work--his ability to build believable, sympathetic, and profoundly messed-up characters is unparalleled.
Where Chabon sometimes goes off the tracks is in the writing itself. Tripp's voice is obviously that of a very intelligent writer, a man who remembers every detail in the vivid glory of a 3-D film. (James Leer's writing, ironically, is actually accused of being too movie-like.) It makes for a good read, but as we are given to understand that Tripp is telling this story later, from memory, the description has a very deliberate, constructed feel. But like I said, that makes for a very entertaining read.
It takes place over three long, sleep-deprived days, and the first day is definitely the best. It is the kind of nonstop, whirlwind night of events that will be the stuff of legend in all the character's narratives. One unbelievable event follows another, and yet you BELIEVE every word of it because Tripp's voice, high though it may be, is honest and just as surprised at each turn of events as we are. The second day is a lot slower, and has many strengths, but it doesn't really get going until night falls again. The third day wraps everything up nicely, but the brief coda is a little too pat and perfect. I would have preferred a little more mystery to the ending.
Overall, a lovely, crazy, poignant read. Very recommended.
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