Sunday, November 25, 2012
Wonder Boys
By: Michael Chabon   Reviewed by OFW editor: Katrina Monroe
Published: August 05, 2012

From the back cover:

At once a deft parody of the American fame factory and a piercing portrait of young and old desire, this novel introduces two unforgettable characters: Grady Tripp, a former publishing prodigy now lost in a fog of pot and passion and stalled in the midst of his endless second book, and Grady’s student, James Leer, a budding writer obsessed with Hollywood self-destruction and struggling with his own searching heart.
If ever there was a novel written for novelists, Wonder Boys is it. In this tragicomedy by Michael Chabon, protagonist Grady Tripp – novelist, stoner, instructor – simultaneously toils away and avoids working on his second novel while his personal life unravels around him.

It’s easy to like Grady. He’s a fuck-up, but a fuck-up with a good heart and mostly noble intentions. What’s great about Grady as a protagonist is that Chabon broke almost every “main character” rule in writing him. He’s pitiful, hardly larger than life if you don’t count his physical girth, and it’s damn near impossible for him to succeed without help from secondary characters. But it all works for Grady. Writers especially are drawn to this character’s desperate need for acceptance from his peers in regard to his work. He desires but is also terrified of a seven year long project, haunted by the “midnight disease” epidemic that spreads through the minds of writers.

This midnight disease also torments a young writer and student of Grady’s named James Leer. James is even more fucked up than Grady. He’s a liar, a kleptomaniac, and dances on the edge of insanity. Grady, without realizing what a dumb idea it is, accidentally takes James under his wing. The two embark on a journey to dig themselves out of their personal hells, leaning on each other the entire way. It is a literary relationship that begs for and breeds disaster which keeps the reader turning pages, if nothing else, to find out what other self-sabotaging caper they can wander into.

Most captivating about Wonder Boys, though, is how Chabon dances the line between literary and mainstream fiction with his style. It is obvious that every word, every metaphor, is placed with painstaking precision to enhance the themes of want and self-actualization. The characters are depictions of their most encompassing traits, made apparent by their naming – the stoner “Tripp,” an odd kid with a propensity to sit, alone, creepily, for long periods of time named “Leer,” and a side-kick with a bad attitude named “Crabtree.” I could imagine this novel finding its way into the syllabus of a high school English class.

Some novels are meant to be taken with a grain of salt, others will provide the reader with an escape – Wonder Boys is a novel meant to be ingested slowly, words chewed and sentences savored, because there is more to be gained from this story than entertainment.

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