The Bottom Line: Peter Piper picked a patch of pickeled peppers or something...
Wonder Boys would normally be the kind of book that I take a quick glance at before thowing to the side-about middle sized in length, not much of a storyline. But somehow, it worked a weird kind of magic on me that kept me reading on through to the very end. I initially read it because it was required for one of my courses, so naturally I had every intention of reselling it at the end of the semester. But instead, it has a permanant place on my bookshelf.
Grady Tripp's life since this morning is a wreck. His third wife just left him,and his editor is coming to town to have a glance at his unfinished fourth novel. Throughout the next weekend, Grady is going on some kind of weird self-discovery journey that takes him from school to a Pittburgh nightclub to his ex-wife's parent's house for Passover dinner.
Does this sound boring? Well, it would be if it weren't for some very unusual circumstances that make this little journey so amusing. First of all, Among Grady's constant companions are a dead dog and a stolen tuba, both of which come in handy later on. Also, Grady is having an affair with the wife of the chancellor of the university where he teaches,and now she's pregnant. He has a gorgeous sudent lodger by the name of Hannah Green living in his basement, who never takes her boots off, who seems to have very subtle ways of hitting on him. And his homosexual editor, Terry Crabtree, is consistently eyeballing his top student, a very weird fellow named James Leer, who likes to fabricate lies and steal the clothing of famous celebrities like Marilyn Monroe.
Wonder Boys is more of a character study than a real story, as more emphasis seems to be placed on the characters' quirks than their impact on the story. Hannah's boots, for example, which Grady is constantly making reference to. And, since James Leer so loves to fabricate, we never really learn all that much about him, except that he is obsessed with Hollywood suicides and can rattle them off at the drop of a hat in alphabetical order without ever stopping to think or breathe. We see a lot of emphasis placed on Crabtree's obvious attraction to James. The character study theory is even further evidenced by the Passover dinner scene in the middle-since Grady's wife left him mostlt because of the prescence of Hannah, she doesn't know about Grady and Sara's affair, which, by the way, left Sara pregnant. Grady's entire purpose for going to the Passover dinner is to tell her about his affair with Sara, and therefore get on with the divorce proceedings. But he never does this. He has several situations in which he is almost about to, but he never does.
So the book is a character study, but it's a very fine character study. Grady himself is a tad on the boring side, but this, somehow, is what makes him so interesting. Sure, he's also a bit of a prick and a pothead, but he's so finely detailed that you can practically hear his monotonous monologue throughout the entire novel, which is told in first person narrative.
It's also a very well-written character study. The writing style of the author, Michael Chabon, is full of metaphors and vivid descriptions. It parallels the writing style of one of my favorite contemporary authors, Alex Garland (The Beach, The Tesseract), only without the vivid, hallucinatory surrealism that Garland is known for. Sometimes Garland gets so descriptive he almost rambles, with sentences taking up to half a paragraph. This is a problem that Grady is having with his novel, And he addresses it whenhe says he has too much to write (what I wouldn't give to have that problem). The humor isn't the kind of ha ha belly laugh humor that people often think of when they think humor, but it's more of a subtle kind that makes you think "This is kind of funny!" and makes you laugh in your head. A perfect example comes during the Passover dinner, when the ex-wife's father looks up at the group of Koreans that are his adopted children, Grady and James, and starts talking about when they were slaves of Pharoh.
So, as I said, Wonder Boys is simple. Although it is by no means classic material, it's worth buying for a boring weekend or a long plane trip.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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Grady Tripp is a former prodigy who now must deal with writer's block, a troubled marriage, a pregnant mistress, and a mixed-up young student who just may be the genius of a writer he used to be himself. Michael Chabon's antic novel was made into a film in 1999.