In this farcical send-up of academia and the writing life, author Michael Chabon focuses on forty-ish author Grady Tripp, an aptly named writer/professor who is so often stoned that after seven years he has written two thousand pages of a book that is not even close to being finished. Grady's book, Wonder Boys, is much like his life--lacking in focus, fixated on the moment, and completely empty of goals or a sense of direction. His third wife has walked out on him; he's been carrying on a five-year affair with Sarah Gaskell, the Chancellor of the college, who is now pregnant with his baby; his editor is pressing him for a final draft of his unfinished book; and his publisher and everyone at the college are wondering if he will ever duplicate the success of his first novel.
During a writer's conference at the college, Grady "saves" one of his students, James Leer, from a possible suicide attempt, but his "mentoring" of James leads to hilariously absurd disasters for both of them. Grady's editor Terry Crabtree, the tuba-playing transvestite "girlfriend" he has brought with him, a collector of memorabilia from the marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, Grady's estranged wife, the pregnant Chancellor, and the violent owner of a car that Grady was given to settle a debt, flesh out the characters and keep the reader amused and laughing almost non-stop.
As the weekend progresses and Grady's personal life further unravels, he finds himself driving around with the transvestite's tuba, the Chancellor's fatally shot malamute, and an equally dead ten-foot boa in the car's trunk. Scenes in which he tries to prevent the trunk from being opened are worthy of the Marx Brothers.
The dialogue is snappy, the narrative speeds along, the word play and humor never flag, and the satire of academic life and the world of writers shows the stamp of familiarity and the author's own wacky sense of perspective. A grand farce which carries the bite of satire, Wonder Boys avoids the arch self-consciousness of so many novels of academia and comes across instead as pure, unadulterated fun. n Mary Whipple