Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book 43: The Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

I find it hard to be a fan. When it comes to acting I feel such a kinship that I can't help but feel like an appreciative peer. When it comes to music my blood pulses with it to the point that I can't be separate enough to be counted as an audience. And with authors most of the books I read are by dead people.

I am an unabashed fan of at least three modern authors. Perhaps more. One I've already touched upon, Douglas Coupland. There will be several more of his books appearing on this list before I'm through. Steven King who is frowned upon by most serious literary minds who need to get their collective heads out of their singular ass and get real.

And then there is Michael Chabon, who seems to combine the populist nature of King's romps with the cerebral post-modern intellectual tone of Coupland. This mix can be exasperating (see Gentlemen of the Road which lasts about 5 minutes and took me several tries to finish or Yiddish Policeman's Union in which Chabon thinks he's writing a sparse hard boiled detective novel for the first 2 1/2 pages and then writes a sentence 47 paragraphs long in which he starts with a dradel, passes through decades of imaginary Jewish/Alaskan history, and winds up in the sad empty bathroom of a music club where an out of work guitar player sits slumped and unknowingly containing the key to a plot to blow up a portion of Jerusalem and this sentence itself will give you an indication of how that hard-boiled sparse thing worked out for Chabon in that novel which I still loved...sheesh) but when Chabon gets it right there is NO ONE better.

I will most likely include several of his books here as well. He and Coupland and King could dominate this and might when all is said and done. The Wonder Boys isn't even my favorite but I think it is the funniest of Chabon's work and I need to conjure up some laughs today.

My college life while I was in it was chaotic to an absurd level. At the time this seemed like an ancient curse like arrangement and I couldn't see the humor in it. But now, picturing myself scaling dorm room balconies, parked outside of doctor's offices trailing the unfaithful girlfriend of a friend, smuggling blankets into the concert hall in anticipation of a tryst on a grand piano only to wind up miles away needing a coat to take the bite out of the wind that was whipping through my pajama pants on the beach, sitting in a giant hall listening to a professor whisper arcane economic facts with her back to the throng (she must have suffered from some sort of social anxiety when I look back on it) or trying to explain to a police officer why the flames coming out of the left side of my car were no real cause for I look back on it all and wonder if I could ever have that much fun being that fucked up again.

The Wonder Boys captures that insane sort of arbitrary bullshit that human beings inject into staid university life. It is as if the ivy and brick and organized schedule makes the imp in everyone revolt. Girls take their tops off in public. Guys drop trou. People pour liquor over each other as if a certain amount of beer could approximate the fountain of youth. Contests arise in which marijuana smoke is held inside of varied lungs to see who can hold onto it longest. And these are the normal moments.

I can't even remember what happens in The Wonder Boys, per se, but there is a dress that Marilyn Monroe wore, a transsexual, a transvestite, a murdered dog, a whole helluva lot of liquor, cigarettes and weed, and a good deal of crying and wondering at what the hell it all means.

While it is happening to the characters it must have seemed interminable and tragic. Now that it is for us to read it is hilarious. And, like college or whatever wild oat period you went through, irretrievable. And the grief that accompanies that revelation puts the sturm und drang of the memory to shame.

So yes, I am a fan of Michael Chabon. And I once opened every cabinet in my kitchen to send my father a message.

1 comment:

Tim Ramick said...

Coupland, King and Chabon are "contemporary" authors. Modernism ended with Beckett. He was the last modernist. Now, everyone who dares to write (which is pretty much everyone) are de facto post-modernists. Except King, who is more than one person and is essentially a ferocious hack (donde esta mi cabeza now, seƱor?).

Note: Laura and I were married on a camping trip on Bloomsday. Twenty-three and a half years later she is still the most astonishing woman in the world—meanwhile, Ulysses is slightly overrated.

The Magic Mountain is a top ten book for me. My dad, long dead, never read it either. But I think of him whenever I reread passages from The Magic Mountain because it's a book about a gentle soul (and my dad was one of those).