Friday, January 22, 2010

Well, I'm posting more, but at the same time having a horrible crisis of confidence about it. I try to avoid posting ad naseum about my neuroses about writing, and about writing publicly, even though those are things I deal with all the time. So enough already. It's a problem, but it's a boring problem.

You might have noticed that I got a little obsessed with Michael Chabon last year (here and here, for example). I spent about a month late last spring reading his stuff and his website (which for someone so verbose is a model of understatement), and his wife's stuff and her blog. Also read some criticism and many reviews. Enough to take the shine off, honestly. One of my least favorite qualities is a penchant for controversy, and the two of them don't seem to feel any need to avoid it, I must say. And I'm even on the same side of the political fence as they are (more or less). I imagine if you were on the other side you would find them unbearable in the extreme.

But I still love his writing. I've already talked about Maps and Legends, and Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which was probably the best book I read last year (wait, what am I saying? with the list of books I read last year, that's not even a compliment). I didn't talk about Wonder Boys, which I also read, which was also wonderful, although it didn't make the list of books worth reading.... well, now that I think of it, maybe it should have. It was definitely worth reading, if only to see how Chabon pulls it off. The protagonist is so awful that the only reason I kept going was to see if he was going to be able to make this total ass into a sympathetic character. And he does. It's a remarkable feat. But it's a difficult book to recommend because it's so unpleasant to read, at least at times.

An aside. There was one thing about the book that fascinated me. But I still haven't had a theory class, so I'm afraid I won't be able to talk about it intelligently, which I hate. (those neuroses, remember? one of them is a complete panic at the thought of sounding stupid.) But I'm trying to learn to throw caution to the wind at least once a day--lighten up--so I'll say this anyway. The thing that fascinated me about Wonder Boys was the tuba. The main character is a washed-up writer named Grady. He's made such a thorough mess of his life that you can hardly stand to read it--he's been working on the same novel for years (and if you know a bit of the history of Chabon's second novel, it's worth the read just for some of the snidely hilarious commentary that goes on there); his answer to most problems is pot; his marriage is a mess; he's having an affair with a woman who gets pregnant and he basically blows her off because he doesn't know what to do. He's a mess. But through an odd combination of events, he ends up with someone else's tuba, and it sort of follows him around--not in an animated way, it just happens that wherever he is, the tuba shows up.

The way the narrative is structured, I think Chabon wants you to think that Grady is saved by the love of a good woman. Literally--she gives him CPR at one point--and figuratively. But it seemed to me that what saves him is the tuba: the tuba as a representative of the absurdity of life, the weird, off-beat strangeness that pervades our existence and that is essentially and exuberantly unpredictable. Grady keeps spiraling down further and further into black despair. But in real life there is always something random going on, and the randomness can just as easily be positive as negative. When the tuba appears in one of the final scenes, you can't help but burst out laughing, and isn't that the way life is? Sometimes the absurdity of it, the flat-out weirdness, is what lets you know you're alive. I want to be able to say something intelligent about what the author intends vs. what the reader experiences, but that's where I'll stop for now. Maybe after I've taken the class I will have more to say.

Well, that was going to be an aside, but it got so long that now my original point will sound like an aside. I was going to say that even though sadly I've gotten past the point of hero worship with Mr. Chabon, I still love his writing. When we went on vacation last summer, I had his 3rd book with me (Kavalier and Clay), and I was utterly spellbound by the first ten pages. Then my husband stole it from me and read it, and by the time he finished it, I had moved on to other things. But now my husband is also a fan, so I got him Chabon's new book of essays for Christmas. I stole it from him this morning, which was only just, and read three essays picked at random. Chabon is still amazing. The one on being his younger brother's hero moved me nearly to tears. And I'm not even a brother. Heck, I'm not even a guy, and the name of the book is Manhood for Amateurs.

So, I'm still a fan. He can be as out-there as he wants in his regular life if he'll just keep on writing. I still haven't read Kavelier and Clay, but it's not very far down on my stack, so maybe soon.


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