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Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (1995-08-02) Hardcover – January 1, 1888
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It makes for a wild weekend, as Grady tries to keep his agent from actually reading his manuscript in the hopes that he can figure out what to actually do with it, keep track of James, who turns out to be a bit of a pathological liar and compulsive thief, attend a seder dinner with his in-laws (with James in tow) to see if he can patch things up with his wife, and figure out what to do about his mistress's pregnancy. There's also a running plotline about the car Tripp is driving, which he won in a poker game and might actually be stolen, and Tripp's crush on the young student that rents out the basement in his house and is never seen without her red cowboy boots. In the end, somehow, improbably, it all turns out about as well as it could have.
I don't even necessarily think that's a spoiler there, because there is a movie version out there of this book and it's fairly faithful to the text, though it does cut out some plot threads while giving others greater weight. The movie bombed, though I actually quite liked it myself, and I honestly think it might work better in some ways than the book...mostly for its willingness to purge extraneous details. Chabon's a wonderful writer with a great sense of how to tell a story and clear, insightful prose, but there was really just too much going on here. Too many characters, too many "side quests" (so to speak), too much detail...it feels cluttered and starts to strain the bounds of credulity. How much weird stuff, after all, can happen to one guy over the course of one weekend?
While I've loved the two books of Chabon's that I've read before, this one just didn't resonate with me. I think part of it was let-down, because what I've read from him before has been so good that I had very high expectations going in, and part of it is that I'm just not in a place where stories about overgrown man-children are especially charming to me. The thought of the amount of emotional labor a person like Tripp pushes onto the women in his life because he can't be bothered to get himself together is enraging, so I actually kind of hated him. Comedy-of-errors-style plots like this one aren't my cup of tea either. I think my lack of connection with this book is as much about me and my preferences as it is about the book itself, though, so while I can't recommend it, I'm not going to affirmatively suggest avoiding it either. If reading this has made you think that this sounds like a delightful narrative, you'll probably like it. If not though, skip.
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For me Wonder Boys is Chabon's one real success and one of my favourite novels of all time. I loved this novel so much that I've tried to read all of his other novels but none reach anywhere the perfection that is Wonder Boys. Since Wonder Boys Chabon has unfortunately fallen into the trap that so many American writer's seem to fall - trying to write the next "great american novel". This seems to involve writing self important novels with depressing arcs that try to win prizes. Wonder Boys is light years ahead of his critically acclaimed Kavalier and Clay (which is frankly over long, depressing and has a very silly plot).
However, this paperback edition is so completely horribly stylized that if you love books not only for their content, but also as a product, please find a different one. The spine is week and the cover illustrations are horrible. Most of the text on the book is just blurbs that tell you nothing. The illustration of the dog is wrong (it has the bullet hole in the wrong place) and the typeface is horrible.
I know, this may be a strange warning for an Amazon review. But the book is so well known that if you visit this page, you probably already know if you want to buy this or give it to someone. In both cases, find a better edition and enjoy a great novel without becoming annoyed.