August 20, 2008
This time I read it in its entirety in two sittings. Grady Tripp is such a colossal plane crash of humanity that it’s impossible to look away, even as Chabon continues to pull charred limbs and dismembered teddy bears out of his past. Tripp, bluntly, is unlikeable: a philandering, hopeless pothead with minor literary genius long since spent.
His sidekick-cum-editor, Terry Crabtree, is barely better, an opportunistic hedonist wreckless with the psyches of others. Not that hedonism is a given evil, but in “Wonder Boys” Chabon makes it flinch-worthy; Tripp doesn’t even bother keeping an eye on his libido. Anything just kind of goes.
“Wonder Boys” is a yarn of Tripp and Crabtree’s weekend at a literary festival at Tripp’s college (he is, somewhat inexplicably, a professor, based on a long-ago string of novels–he can’t write anything now to save his life). The narrative spins out in a blur of molested youth, drugs, the combination of the two, and their mostly unpleasant after-effects. It’s enough to make the reader feel hungover and queasy.
In between these groggy episodes are some good reading. Tripp’s run-ins (they don’t end well) with pets are slapsticky hijinx, but ultimately hilarious. His perhaps ill-advised impulse trip to his in-laws’ homestead at Passover to (maybe?) try to save his imploding, farcical marriage (his mistress is pregnant) is a tapestry of misfit individuals and neuroses–perhaps the highlight of the novel.
Chabon leaves me feeling sticky and confused at the end. It’s like sitting in a bar during daylight hours: I can only see the stench and the dirtiness and feel the throbbing headache, while the characters are the ones who got to have all the fun.
|novel, fiction, read, readin2008, borrowed, donotown, pittsburgh, family, addiction, divorce, academia|
As always, see all of my reviews on LibraryThing.
Book #48 read in 2008.
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