Saturday, December 24, 2005


From the Vault: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

A ripple of electricity tiptoes across a reader's neck when he or she comes across a previously unknown writer whose prose emphatically announces a new, impressive talent.

Though Michael Chabon wrote the novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and A Model World, a collection of short stories, I wasn't aware of him until Wonder Boys. Reading the 31-year-old's novel was a revelation.

Wonder Boys takes place entirely during a literary festival held on a weekend at a small Pittsburgh college. One of the chief organizers of the festival is Grady Tripp, a burned-out professor who is losing a struggle with the gargantuan manuscript that is supposed to become his next novel.

Attending the same weekend is Grady's agent, Terry Crabtree, who has accompanied Grady on many a misadventure, and soon finds himself involved in another through the acts of a writing student named James Leer, who is obsessed with Hollywood suicides.

The plot itself is entertaining, but what's dazzling about Wonder Boys is Chabon's writing, which offers at least one phrase, one sentence, one description that makes the reader's jaw drop in awe, admiration or envy on nearly every page.

Wonder Boys earns Chabon the right to be mentioned in the same breath as John Updike, but Chabon's presence is even more exciting, given his age. As for now, he stands alone as the only novelist promising to be one of his generation's greatest writers.

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