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
on 10 June 2011
I nearly always read a book first and then watch the film, usually tutting throughout that `it's not like that in the book'. With Wonder Boys however the process has been reversed as I am a big fan of Curtis Hanson's fabulous film which I have seen several times but have only just read the book.
Whether it was my love for the film or Chabon's cold writing style I'm not sure but I never really got into Wonder Boys. Chabon is undoubtedly a gifted writer but always, to me at least, seems to have the knack of writing unlikeable characters. Michael Douglas made Grady Tripp almost loveable in the film, here he's a bit unfathomable and the key relationship with Crabtree (done so much better in the film) never convinces.
I never thought I'd say this but, given the choice, watch the film.
on 12 February 2004
What I loved about Wonder Boys is its droll expansiveness, the way our narrator manages to be hilariously self-deprecating, while Chabon himself uses extended metaphor and Homeric simile (and that`s as rare as hens` teeth in the modern novel) with extravagant relish. Just as certain actors look like they`re thoroughly enjoying themselves (Nicholson, for example), Chabon reads like he`s having a great time. All this in a novel about a man who`s trying hard (not) to finish a novel - called Wonder Boys!
This is in certain ways quite an old-fashioned novel, like a contemporary version of the 19th century picaresque tale. Oh, and it made me laugh out loud.
Pretty damn wonderful.
on 15 July 2001
Michael Chanbons prose is delightful. Jam packed with detail and wit, this is the perfect book for someone who enjoys good wholesome humour. Particular incidents with the snake are very amusing. The book sometimes is a bit hard going and requires complete concentration, but with perseverance this is an excellent book.
The story ostensibly centres on Prof Grady Tripp's attempts at completing his increasingly out of control follow up novel of the title, Wonder Boys; yet as is not surprising with Michael Chabon, as well as an interesting plot, it is very much about characters and relationships. Central here, in addition to Grady himself, are his editor Terry Crabtree and young student James Lear, something of a loner, as well as host of other divers characters including Grady's pregnant mistress, an adoring female student, a transvestite, a dead dog and a tuba.
The real beauty of the novel is the interaction between the various characters. Grady and carefree drug reliant Crabtree are long standing friends and this clearly comes through. Crabtree has a crush on the Grady's mysterious student, the unreliable James; Grady's beautiful student tenant has a crush on him; and Grady's third marriage is coming to an end while he pursues his mistress, the college Chancellor. His failing marriage does not prevent visiting his wife's family for Thanksgiving, and taking along James. The relationship between Grady and James is particularly well drawn; while seemingly a little detached from James, it is clear from Grady's actions and the superbly written lengthy dialogues between the two that Grady cares about James.
No one comes out of this shining, the individual characters do have their redeeming features, it would be a mistake to right them off as insincere, and one cannot help be drawn to these people for all their human failings.
Wonder Boys is very funny, enjoyable and at times moving, but above all it is the beauty of Chabon's writing that makes it an absolute must read. If you've seen the film you must read the book, there are, not surprisingly, differences.
Very amusing, quirky read, much lighter than Kavalier and Clay by the same author.
I saw the film (with Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire) many years ago, and this has been on the 'to read' list for a while. It's a lot easier to get through than I expected, and has a lot of funny characters and incidents.
A writing teacher in a Pittsburgh college just can't get to the end of his second book, now reaching 2,000 pages and still not over. This delay prompts a visit by his larger-than-life editor Terry Crabtree, and precipitates a weekend of literary soirées, unexpected deaths, transvestite companionship and student angst.
Grady Tripp has troubles in his private life as well - a pregnant mistress and a wife who's left him but whose family wants him to visit for a Jewish holiday.
Juggling the women in his life, a suicidal writing student, the editor whose taken up with a cross-dresser, will his novel Wonder Boys ever get finished in time for his deadline? ANd how will he sort out the tangled muddle his life has become?
I couldn't help but feel a little for the pot-smoking writing teacher. Though his novel sounds unreadable, he's an ageing man struggling to find his way now his best years are over. I didn't find student James as empathetic as I did in the film, and can only picture Terry as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr - for me, the pregnant Sara is the most likeable in the whole book.
I love books about books and writing, and did enjoy this aspect of the story. The quirky nature of the plot was also very funny, with dead animal and a jacket belonging to Marilyn Monroe seeming bizarre and out of place but all coming together by the end.
You may not respect the characters (smoking marijuana, extra-marital affairs) but this mad weekend is a hilarious ride to share in.
I must begin by confessing that I found Chabon’s Summerland, 2002, and Telegraph Avenue, 2012, hard going. He is highly articulate and able to cross genres but I can never correlate my response to the general acclaim of the critics in the weekend supplements. So it is for this book, published in 1995 and based on the author’s own experience of wrestling with an overlong manuscript, similar to that presented here as ‘The Wonder Boys’.
The first part of this book is very good, establishing the very unsavoury character of the narrator, Professor Grady Tripp, a creative writing professor at a minor Pittsburgh college, and his relationships with his gay publisher, Terry Crabtree, his third wife, Emily, whom we hear about but only briefly ‘meet’, his lover Sara and two students, the brilliant but self-loathing James Leer with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Hollywood films and stars, and Hannah who, naturally, has a crush on Grady. Given all that we learn about him, Grady’s sudden decision not to respond to Hannah’s advances seemed unlikely.
However, when the action moves from the campus and Grady and Leek set off on a journey to celebrate Passover at the home of his Korean-Jewish wife [?], the novel begins to sprawl and lose its sense of urgency.
Tripp, overweight, happily addicted to pot and a serial womaniser, is involved in a series of events many of which are individually funny but which do not coalesce into a narrative whole. After marital disharmony, a shock from his lover, falling over numerous times, getting bitten by a blind dog that quickly gets his come-uppance and realising the true worth of his manuscript, weighing in at over 2500 pages, his career sags but he ends up smiling.
The terseness of the campus WordFest annual writing gathering in the first part and the sentimentality of the Passover visit in the second are two central points in this book that impress and bore, respectively. Having hammered home his point about Tripp’s inability to cut his book down to size as the book progresses I had the same feeling about Chabon’s. Perhaps this is exactly the response that he meant to create in the reader?
Whilst some of Chabon’s characters are interesting, several including Hannah, and Miss Sloviak/Tony, the transvestite whom Crabtree meets en route to Pittsburgh for the disastrous WordFest, are left adrift. There may be a deeper significance to a musical instrument that is threaded through the book, but I could not see it. It smacked of affectation as did Tripp’s repeated references to the transvestite.
The American campus element of this book has been dealt with much more deftly by authors from this side of the Atlantic. Tripp meanders through life in a fugg of pot, avoids any decisions and seems to be as useless as a teacher as he now is as an author, his earlier moderate successes long forgotten - except by Hannah. It is quite impossible to understand the reason for Sara’s attraction to him.
Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, his Master's dissertation, was published in 1988 to great acclaim making him the real Wonder Boy. Here he has used the traumatic experiences associated with his decision to abandon his second novel Fountain City. Regrettably this novel does nothing to make me want to explore any of the author’s remaining books.
on 27 April 2016
Wonder Boys is for me easily Chabon's finest novel. In his second novel he has managed to creates an engaging and entertaining world following the trials and tribulations of a washed up author over the course of one crazy weekend featuring a crazy assortments of people and events. Despite some of the somewhat surreal and crazy elements of the plot he manages to create a believable story and characters I actually cared about.
For me Wonder Boys is Chabon's one real success and one of my favourite novels of all time. I loved this novel so much that I've tried to read all of his other novels but none reach anywhere the perfection that is Wonder Boys. Since Wonder Boys Chabon has unfortunately fallen into the trap that so many American writer's seem to fall - trying to write the next "great american novel". This seems to involve writing self important novels with depressing arcs that try to win prizes. Wonder Boys is light years ahead of his critically acclaimed Kavalier and Clay (which is frankly over long, depressing and has a very silly plot).
on 26 May 2013
The novel was recommended to me by a colleague who enthused. I had thought that this might be because of their aspiration to teach in a university - looking for the role model. So, the narrator is not the role model that I'd recommend. I still find tales of reckless over consumption of alcohol and drugs, and surviving, improbable, despite Keith Richards. And in the first two chapters, I did not like this man at all. I thought that I could see what was coming. I did not anticipate a hugely entertaining read, and to become involved in this (slightly) literary freak show and its protagonists. I particularly enjoyed the sensation of knowing that the author had anticipated my view, interest, scepticism, recognitions of terchnique and genre characteristics. Must tell my colleague, and read more Chabon.
on 28 May 2012
I may be going out on a limb here - given that the other reviews on here are largely positive - but I'm afraid to say I didn't like this book at all. I found it a strange story about a man who I personally found largely unlikeable. However, the most challenging aspect of this book was that I found it very difficult to understand exactly what it was about. The blurb seemed to allude to a comical story about an ageing professor who, whilst struggling with his fictional masterpiece, departs on a weekend journey which causes him to face up to his situation in life
I have to say I didn't feel that this book was comical nor did I feel that the ending was particularly satisfying. The other huge gripe I have with this novel is the relationship between the students and professor in this book. I particularly found it difficult to understand the purpose of the character James Leer and I found it very hard to accept the relationship between Leer and Grady Tripp, the aged university professor, as appropriate or realistic. Forgive me for sounding square but I personally wouldn't find it appropriate for university students to sleep at their lecturers house or go on an impromptu road trip together.
Along with the difficulty with the characters I had, I also thought the plot is very weak with hardly anything exciting or worthwhile happening. There didn't seem to me to be much a story to tell, other than highlighting just how much of a complete tool Grady Tripp and how worthless the other characters on offer here are. Others may disagree but when asked by my partner what this book is about, I honestly couldn't tell her as there didn't seem to be much plot that can be easily explained. But maybe that's the point and I've simply misunderstood. Either way, if this book is representative of Mr Chabon's writing, I don't feel I shall be investing any more of my money into his novels.