Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"A worried man with a worried mind"

I've only read two books by Michael Chabon,  have only owned two and only one that I read yearly now, since 2007. The first book I picked up by the author was Wonder Boys, the book from which one of my favorite movies was adapted. (Side note: The film introduced me to Robert Downey, Jr. in a light I had never been able to see him in, becoming the first movie with the actor that I deeply enjoyed.) The second book I read was The Mysteries of Pittsburgh which has since been adapted into a movie of its own. The unread book, sitting upon on my shelf, is The Final Solution.

Because I've only read two books by the man, it's a long shot for me to say this, but I believe it anyway - Michael Chabon is quite possibly one of the greatest writers alive. Every time I pick up nearly dog-earred copy of Wonder Boys and turn to the first page, first sentence - "The first real writer I ever knew was a man who did all of his work under the name of August Van Zorn." - I am quickly sucked into the novel, no questions asked. There's something about the way he works his words in it, the way he breathes Grady Tripp alive, limping through life with James Leer and Terry Crabtree. These are people I want to know, want to be around with, despite the high levels of self destruction that may come in toll.

There's a lingering theme with the two books I read, however. Homosexuality is present in both Wonder Boys and Mysteries; however, in the latter it's an element of the plot. While Grady Tripp isn't gay, he's editor and long time friend, Terry Crabtree, is. When meeting him at the airport, Grady Tripp narrates, "He reached up with both arms to embrace me and I held on to him for an extra second or two, tightly, trying to determine from the soundness of his ribs whether he loved me still." Later, he states that all male friendships are quixotic in nature.

As with most books, I turn the page to examine my life through the narrator's or central character's. Here is a man who wakes up to see his wife has left, learns that his closest friend's career is hanging by a string (and is entirely his fault), feels like he's accomplished nothing in the last seven years, is jealous of the blooming relationship between his student and his editor, lusts after the female student living in his basement and learns that his mistress is pregnant with what would be their only child. Because I am nothing like Grady Tripp, I have to read between the lines of his three-day trek into a brave new world, a brave new Tripp. In the end, it's uncertainty for him. Uncertain that his wife, Emily, will return to him. Uncertain if his friendship with Crabtree will be there on Monday. Uncertain that he's half the writer he used to be. Uncertain if he wants to start a relationship with Sara and be the father to their love child. And it's the central uncertain theme is what brings me back to the book every year to coax me out the door and brave the world.

And in some ways, Grady Tripp reminds me of David Kepesh in the movie Elegy:
I think it was Bette Davis who said old age is not for sissies. But it was Tolstoy who said the biggest surprise in a man’s life is old age. Old age sneaks up on you, and the next thing you know you’re asking yourself, I’m asking myself, why can’t an old man act his real age? How is it possible for me to still be involved in the carnal aspects of the human comedy? Because, in my head, nothing has changed.
With Tripp, his third marriage ended the same way his first two. A continuing pattern of infedility is what leaves him standing in the rain, pondering, while Sara offers him the ride after his entire life has sailed down the gutter. In the end, after he only has that Lovecraftian (August Van Zornian?) tuba beside him, he must ponder if there will be more.

"Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan from the Wonder Boys Soundtrack

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