Topher Hooperton's Reviews > Manhood for Amateurs

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
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Jan 03, 2011

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If the founders of America had developed their own national tongue, there would surely be a word in the language, like ennui or schadenfreude , to describe the complex emotional state particularly prevalent within its borders: namely, the act of pontificating, angsting, and generally kvetching on the nature of being and having a father.

Adding to that thematic canon is Michael Chabon's latest book, Manhood For Amateurs , a collection of essays outlining his musings on the subject of masculinity, most of which were originally published in Details magazine, but which are reprinted here, gathered into loosely themed sections.

Much of the book's first half deals with the nature of fatherhood: his critical self-analysis of his parenting skills, his thoughts on the lost freedom of contemporary childhood, as well as his relationship to his own absent father, and the father-in-law he was forced to abandon after his first marriage ended.

He then moves further out into other aspects of his life, including his early sexual experiences, the comic book fandom that defined the qualities he now admires in women, and a surprising but lovely paean to British tea-time sci-fi show Doctor Who, and the bonding effect is has had on his family.

Most revealing, however, is the writing not connected to fatherhood, but rather his exploration of the broader aspects of maleness - like the nefarious and violent temperament of boys, and the callow self-interest of twenty-year-old men, something that he calls the 'little shit' stage.

A particular stand-out piece is 'The Ghost Of Irene Adler', a poignant essay that reflects on the inherent unknowability of male friends from one another, and his assertion that however close the friendship, a small fragment is always held just out of sight, only visible to the man's partner. As he puts it:

"There is something in the guy, something crucial and irreducible, that you do not understand at all, and She is the proof. You have no access to that innermost kernel of him, and you never did."

The larger success of these essays comes from looking at them as a whole. The meandering, loosely structured format, and the scattering of his thoughts, reflects the subject matter that he's attempting to define.

While there is no especially coherent argument to be found here, the portrait he draws of himself and his family is warm and engaging. Within the eloquent and complex sentences, and the inherent sadness that underpins all of the writing, Chabon makes an admirable effort in lightly sketching the self-deprecating, complicated and angst-ridden nature of modern manhood.
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