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Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Wonder Boys (original 1995; edition 1995)

by Michael Chabon

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3,324681,636 (3.95)104
Title:Wonder Boys
Authors:Michael Chabon
Info:Wheeler Pub Inc (1995), Hardcover, 415 pages
Collections:contemporary/ literary

Work details

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (1995)

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Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Very middle of the road. Thus a solid three stars. The book was full of cliches about writers - substance abuse, sexual antics with co-workers and co-eds resulting in multiple marriages thus depicting the writer as a "hopeless romantic", a Hunter Thompsonesque weekend with a gay man, a suicidal genius and a tuba (insert any three Fellini type items here).

At the heart of the book, a story about writers block and a seven year endeavor about a book going nowhere. Best friend as indulgent editor means the money kept pouring in without any product flowing out. And on, and on and on. The Talking Heads wrote a song about this book before it was written. It was called "The Road to Nowhere."

Harsh words? Maybe so. But lately, I have been wondering what the Pulitzer committee is thinking because I have read a few books from prize winning authors and have been gravely disappointed. There were however a few things about the book I enjoyed and those salvaged the book from one star all the way back to three.

There is some beautifully written prose. Some sentences, some paragraphs. There were times I read and re-read those parts and just enjoyed basking in how good they were. Chabon uses some beautiful words that aren't used often, if at all, in literature. Although that was done clunkily and unevenly, it was great fun as a vocabulary building exercise.

I also felt that at some point, this became a story. When that shift occurred, I was caught up in wanting to finish it even though I didn't particularly like it. I wanted to finish it because I actually wanted to find out what was going to come of the characters. There really wasn't one I cared about deeply or empathized with, it was more the idle curiosity of an onlooker than the active investigation of a participant.

I have another book of his sitting in the pile and I intend to read that one too. But I will give myself time between the books to give the next one a fair chance. I will cleanse my palate by reading a bunch of stuff completely unconnected and then return to Mr. Chabon, refreshed and hopefully untainted. I think this may be a book you either love or hate. I personally felt....meh. ( )
  ozzieslim | Mar 13, 2015 |
17 of 75 for 2015. It took me a while to get through Chabon's book. He comes highly recommended, so I was looking forward to this, but I found myself slogging through lots of marijuana enduced paranoia, sleepless nights, and all the things I don't like about academia. Grady Tripp is a trainwreck waiting to happen, who somehow manages to slide through the worst things life can throw at him--most of which are of his own creation. Not a book I'd care to pick up for a second read, although it is well enough written that I kept after it till I finished the whole thing, which puts it above Kathryn Ann Porter's Ship of Fools which I just couldn't bring myself to read. Curiously, the opinion of two different readers of Tripp's magnum opus, which gives its name to Chabon's novel, is I read enough of it. Well I read the whole thing. And now it's over. ( )
  mtbearded1 | Feb 21, 2015 |
So you know that bit of Chekhovian wisdom about the gun? It occurred to me over and over again throughout the reading of this book. Every element Chabon inserted into this story goes off sooner or later in one way or another, including the boa constrictor. I can’t say that the progression of the plot is predictable, but I want to say something almost like that and in the most positive way; a page and a half before every new tragedy in the inexorably unraveling life of Grady Tripp you can begin to see something coming, you can watch how Chabon’s facsimile of fate and chance conspire to bring about one travesty after another. It’s a virtuoso performance of plot-craft. But, as I’ve discovered over and over in Chabon’s writing, the real gem isn’t the plot (though it’s impeccable), it isn’t the prose (though it’s beautiful), it isn’t concept (though it’s interesting), it’s his characters. Now, I’m not normally a reader who loves literature for the characters most of all, and I tend to read with disbelief only partially suspended, but Chabon’s characters become real to me. I audibly gasp, I laugh out loud, my jaw literally drops; I read portions of this book pacing in my kitchen with my wife occasionally asking if everything was okay, and me wanting to answer “how could it be, with all that stuff in Grady’s trunk?!” It doesn’t even matter that Grady kind of sucks, that he’s a terrible person; I still feel for the guy, still root for him.
This book is highly recommended to that kind of reader whose reading is a symptom of a half-smothered, stillborn, frustrated ambition to write. I know you’re out there. ( )
  CGlanovsky | Jan 28, 2015 |
I swore, after reading Herzog, that I would never read another novel about middle-aged academics in crisis. However, by the time that I figured out that the middle-aged academic narrator of Wonder Boys was in crisis, I couldn't put the book down because I had to find out what happened to the tuba.

I'm really glad I couldn't put this down because this turned out to be a great Passover novel. Will the first-borns be saved? Will Tripp (the middle-aged academic) be able to stop wondering around the wastelands of Pittsburgh? Will he be able to give up the flesh-pots of Egypt for the hope of life in the promised land? Those are the questions that keep the novel moving forward. In addition, there is a scene with a Seder that was one of the funniest things I've read in a long time (and I've been to some amusing Seders in my time,) ( )
  aulsmith | Dec 20, 2014 |
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 |
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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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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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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.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:28 -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)

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