Wonder Boys

July 12, 2008

What would a “buddy” novel look like if it had to contend with three main characters instead of two? The answer in Wonder Boys is a three-sided shape, the triangle

Hero #1: Grady Tripp, a pot-saturated writer who can’t finish his magnum opus or figure out why his relationships with women always end in failure. Hero #2: Grady’s life-long friend and editor, Terry Crabtree. Put them together for Wordfest, an annual college event honoring writers and let the shenanigans begin. Hero #3: Grady’s student, James Leer. Grady doesn’t actually like James, but he feels sorry for him and they become buddies when Grady thinks he has interrupted James’ suicide attempt. Terry, on the other hand, loves James from the moment he lays eyes (and hands and whatever else) on him and he’s even willing to love his novel too.

Grady’s problems are manifold and diverse, and they could even be interesting, but the author, Michael Chabon, has other toys to play with: a dead author, some dead parents, two-going-on-three dead marriages, a dead dog, a dead snake, a dead woman’s coat, a dead beat’s car, an unplayed tuba, a … I could go on, but you get the idea. And he juggles his toys together so that they fall over each other like the Keystone Cops. Although clearly a humorist, Chabon can’t resist tossing in the occasional over-the-top adjective (spavine?), but any pretense of appearing to be a serious wordsmith is misplaced. Wonder Boys is a comedy that can be enjoyed without keeping a dictionary handy. As for me, I confess I enjoyed the movie version more (cleaner plot). Still, the book contains some memorable lines:

[Fahey] “one day waved a loaded pistol from the lecturn and instructed his pupils to write about Fear.” p. 13

And more tenderly,

“… I felt a sharp pain in my chest at the sudden expansion of the last hopeful muscle in my body.” p. 344

I had been looking forward to reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but I feel I can wait a little longer. I will say this for Mr. Chabon: he has maintains an informative web page (or two).

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