I really wanted to dislike Wonder Boys. I even tried to dislike it. I mean, here it was a book about writers (barf) by Michael Chabon (barf) who kind of gives me the willies (I think it’s the hair). Despite all that, Wonder Boys still crawled into my heart.
So we’ve got pot-smoking, wife-cheating, never-ending-novel writing Grady Tripp and the weekend from hell. His editor comes into town for writerpalooza or something and brings along a drag queen. Grady’s wife has also chosen that day to leave him and Grady’s mistress, the chancellor of the university he teaches at, also decides to tell him she’s pregnant. Oh and Grady also managed to thwart the suicide of his gifted-oddball student James Leer who steals a jacket worn by Marilyn Monroe. Also, the chancellor’s dog is killed.
Can you stand up under the weight of that much contrived coincidence? Youch. And yet, it still works. I can’t quite figure out how or why, but it does. Maybe it’s because Grady’s voice is so strong. Maybe it’s because like so many of us Grady knows exactly what his problem is what he needs to do to fix it and yet, still doesn’t.
Part of the reason Wonder Boys works so well is that Chabon lets Grady say yes to every insane situation that comes up. Should I go to writerpalooza after my student has killed my married, pregnant-with-my-child lover’s dog? Hell yes. Should I take the dog’s body with me to hide the crime? Yes. Should I take my weird student to my soon-to-be-ex-in-laws’ house for Passover? Of course. Tell my sister-in-law about my infidelity? Why not.
So it goes on and on and on, with each crazy situation building on the next. But what remains true is Grady’s wry, insightful voice. Along the way he skewers every thing in his path from writing workshops to authors to editors to stoners to college students. It’s hilarious. I was so won over by Chabon and Wonder Boys that I am willing to give him another try.
(Full disclosure: I hated The Adventures of Kavlier & Clay with a passion I usually reserve for the Barenaked Ladies and mushrooms. To me it was a boring, drawn out big fat romance novel for men — comic books, wars, and love lost and reclaimed. Are you kidding me?)