Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wonder, Not Wonderful

11. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon is a modern-day Nabokov, and I don't mean that as a compliment. Like the Russian pedantic, Chabon is too obsessed with coaxing a pondiferous meaning out of each sentence for his work to flow as a whole. His prose is littered with adjectives and dubious compounds.

Such a style tends to make me want to skip around in search of a plot, and often ends up making me despise that pretentious narrator. All of Chabon's characters in this book are wordy and self-centered. If I don't like the characters, I rarely like a book. That said, Chabon's Grady Tripp is no Humbert Humbert. He's done (and does) some bad things, but I never ended up hating him.

Wonder Boys starts to improve toward the final third of the book. Usually, a book will start out well and go downhill from there, but I found this to be the opposite. Once I figured out the point of the book, and the main theme, how authors become their characters and vice versa, it became a lot more interesting.

I liked how Wonder Boys is also the name of the narrator's novel, and the parallels between the novel being read and the novel in the book. Chabon is skilled in this seamless blending of fiction within a fictional reality. A lot of authors have tackled this theme, and it can be tricky, but Chabon's version is neither overwhelming nor confusing.

In the end, Wonder Boys wasn't wonderful, but it did have something to say. If you have the time to get through it, especially if you're a writer, I'd say go for it. I'm not planning to pick up more Chabon anytime soon though.

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