There are some writers that dazzle you with the memorable characters they create, some who bewilder you with their mastery of diction and vocabulary, some who baffle you with how adept they are at constructing realistic dialogue on the page, and still others who astonish you with descriptive passages so vivid that substituting an actual picture of the person, place or thing would only serve to diminish the idea. Michael Chabon is a combination of all of these writers. There are few who can match his talent for storytelling or his grasp of the weight of mystery and heritage in life. Chabon’s books include the novels The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (the last one winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001), the short story collection, Werewolves in Their Youth, and the alternative history genre novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. While I have not gotten my hands on all of these, I can tell you that the ones I have read have confirmed my suspicions that the man is incapable of writing anything bland or tedious.
Chabon has drawn upon many personal interests and experiences to give his characters and stories their oddly unsettling realism, such as baseball, comic books, Fine Arts graduate students, his younger days in Pittsburgh, and his Jewish background. He has also attempted to forge a new connection between literary fiction and genre fiction, denying that one is inherently more cultured than the other. To that end, some of Chabon’s most recent works are heavily inspired by genres such as science fiction, fantasy, horror and even romance. And rumor has it that The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is being adapted for the screen by the Coen brothers.
If you are interested in Chabon, I suggest picking up The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, his most praised work. However, if the size intimidates you, you may find Wonder Boys enjoyable, or one of his later, genre-influenced works, like Summerland or Gentlemen of the Road.
Here’s an excerpt from Wonder Boys that I particularly enjoy:
I say that Albert Vetch is the first real writer I knew not because he was, for a while, able to sell his work to magazines, but because he was the first one to have the midnight disease; to have the rocking chair and the faithful bottle of bourbon and the staring eye, lucid with insomnia even in the daytime. In any case he was, now that I consider it, the first writer of any sort to cross my path, real or otherwise, in a life that has on the whole been a little too crowded with representatives of that sour and squirrelly race. He set a kind of example that, as a writer, I’ve been living up to ever since. I only hope that I haven’t invented him.