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Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
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Wonder Boys (original 1995; edition 1995)

by Michael Chabon

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3,268641,687 (3.96)103
Member:twopairsofglasses
Title:Wonder Boys
Authors:Michael Chabon
Info:Wheeler Pub Inc (1995), Hardcover, 415 pages
Collections:contemporary/ literary
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (1995)

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Grady Tripp is a writer of a few novels; following the success of his award winning novel The Land Downstairs he has set out to write his follow up. Seven years later his manuscript for Wonder Boys was over 2600 pages long and nowhere closer to being finished. In his personal life things were messed up, his wife has walked out on him, and his mistress Sara has revealed she was pregnant. Wonder Boys (1995) is Michael Chabon’s second novel following the success of his debut book The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988).

Michael Chabon spent five years writing a book called Fountain City following The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Fountain City ballooned into a 1500 page novel about an architect building the perfect baseball stadium in Florida. Chabon stated that he “never felt like [he] was conceptually on steady ground.” Without telling his agent or publisher he abandoned the book and started Wonder Boys which steamed from the melodrama involved around Fountain City. The main character, Grady Tripp is apparently based on one of Chabon’s professors from University of Pittsburgh who had a 3000 pages manuscript which eventually was published in 2001.

This being my third novel by Michael Chabon, I was struck by how different this book was to the other two. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union play with intertextuality and genre blending but Wonder Boys didn’t have this at all. Sure there were some similarities, the frequent use of metaphors and recurring themes (particularly with Jewish identity) were still present but it felt very different. Wonder Boys felt raw and emotional, and now understanding the fate of Fountain City I can see the birth of this book.

Chabon plays on the ideas of how we view the stereotypical struggling writer; a person surrounded in melodrama. Wonder Boys is set over the course of one weekend in which Grady’s third wife has left him and his mistress has told him he will be a father. To make things worse, his mistress is the chancellor of the university he works at and her husband in the head of the English department, which makes him his boss. The drama continues to unfold as his agent has arrived in town in the hopes to get a peek at his new novel, which is far from finished. However that is not the half of Grady’s problems and this novel is overly dramatic to give the reader a chance to re-examine the ideas they have of a struggling writer; not all of them are Grady Tripp or Hank Moody (Californication).

Michael Chabon wanted to play with the idea of drama as a reflection of the internal struggle that is experienced with a novel that just isn’t working. Everything is over the top, much like the 1600 page novel that needs to be trimmed down and turned into a more accessible novel. However everything that Grady tries to do to make his life a little less complicated just makes everything worse. This metaphor plays out throughout the entire novel and I had to wonder if it is better to abandon the novel and start again or continue trying to fix it (this plays out near the end of this book but I won’t give spoilers). The fact this book is full of anxiety and raw emotions only serves to enhance the experience and the metaphor.

Wonder Boys was also turned into a movie starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes and Robert Downey, Jr. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I can see what it working on a very fundamental level but I am not sure how it would translate. The movie does seem to have a cult classic status so maybe it translated onto the screen perfectly.

Yet again I find myself being impressed with the works of Michael Chabon and a little sad that is takes me so long to read another novel of his. I have Telegraph Avenue on my TBR bookcase waiting for me but it is a bit of a tome. I have so many big books I would love to read but they still scare me, I really need to work on this problem. Wonder Boys is a wonderful and emotional journey and a great place to start if you have never read Michael Chabon before.

This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/12/03/wonder-boys-by-michael-chabon/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 4, 2014 |
Here's a story that I experienced the movie version first. I loved the movie, each and every time I have watched it. The book is very good and easier to keep up with the story's pot smoking (puff for puff) than it has been for me and the movie. ( )
  jphamilton | Mar 5, 2014 |
I am reading this book for my book club.

When reading a book for a book club, I always think of the person who suggested it and ask myself,why did they like this book?

I wasn't a great fan of this novel, finding both the story and main characters tedious and obnoxious. However, this being said, I do applaud Michael Chabon's ability to create characters so devoid of any redeeming qualities, that the reader is naturally compelled to continue the story to see what is the end result.

The story line wavered between the believable and unbelievable. Mr. Chabon's use of pragmatic prose enhanced the story's credibility. But the 'madcap' adventures shared by the protagonist, as well as his writing slump of 7 years (and 2000 pages) pushed the boundaries for me.

I didn't like the story and would not recommend it to anyone but that is based on storyline alone. In terms of author's ability as a writer and story-teller, then yes, the novel is worth reading. ( )
  NancyNo5 | Nov 14, 2013 |
Good writing as usual, just not as gripping as his later stuff ( )
  SChant | Oct 21, 2013 |
Pitch. Perfect. Novel. Not just a good novel, but the first to crack in to my top 10 in a long time. HIGHLY recommended. ( )
  JWarren42 | Oct 10, 2013 |
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Epigraph
Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank-- but that's not the same thing. -- Joseph Conrad
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To Ayelet
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The first real writer I ever knew was a man who did all of his work under the name of August Van Zorn.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
Pittsburgh professor and author Grady Tripp is working on an unwieldy 2,611 page manuscript that is meant to be the follow-up to his successful, award-winning novel The Land Downstairs, that was published seven years earlier. On the eve of a college-sponsored writers and publishers weekend called WordFest, two monumental things happen to Tripp: his wife walks out on him, and he learns that his mistress, who is also the chancellor of the college, Sara Gaskell, is pregnant with his child. To top it all off, Tripp finds himself involved in a bizarre crime involving one of his students, an alienated young writer named James Leer.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312140940, Paperback)

Grady Tripp is a pot-smoking middle aged novelist who has stalled on a 2611 page opus titled Wonder Boys. His student James Leer is a troubled young writer obsessed by Hollywood suicides and at work on his own first novel. Grady's bizarre editor Terry Crabtree and another student, Hannah Green, come together in his wildly comic, moving, and finally profound search for an ending to his book and a purpose to his life.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A funny novel on two college friends who relive their youth by getting up to all sorts of tricks during a literary conference. One is a professor who is writing a novel, the other is his editor. Both left college with high hopes of making a name, hopes which have not materialized. By the author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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