After tackling novels, short stories, genre fiction, screenplays, a young adult novel, and, last year, his first work of nonfiction (Maps and Legends, a collection of linked essays), Michael Chabon finally talks about his own life in these personal narratives on manhood.
The book acts as a manual of sorts, divided into sections with playfully instructive titles like "Techniques of Betrayal," "Exercises in Masculine Affection," and "Tactics of Wonder and Loss." This gives a loose structure to a collection that explores, in non-chronological fashion, Chabon's variety of roles as father, son, teenager, friend, and husband, among others.
Since the essays tend to be short (one of them is only three pages, and many are not much longer), it's difficult to be immersed in one story for long before moving on to a different time, setting, and mood. But the book seems to return to its anchor whenever the present-day Chabon - the father, husband, and writer he is now - re-emerges.
There are moving moments in this collection, such as Chabon's relationship with his ex-wife's father - a man Chabon calls "one of the best fathers I've ever found," a man who was, in some ways, "divorced by someone he treated like a son (you can read this essay in full at BookBrowse)." Cultural references span Chabon's four and a half decades, from the Planet of the Apes and Wacky Packages of his youth to the new Doctor Who series he now watches with his children. It's charming to hear from the type of father who confesses, "Part of my desire to have so many children was the longing for a fan club to belong to, for imaginative fellowship, for the society of passionate amateurs like me." Humorous episodes of perfectly executed wit round out the collection, as when Chabon, who has always sworn by the manly virtue of a wallet, finds himself - four children and many diaper bags later - on the hunt for a murse - a man purse.
And, oh, there's also sex and drugs.
Throughout, Chabon's prose moves elegantly from humor to honesty to poignance. He strikes just the right amount of vulnerability - truthful but not divulging, candid but not crass. Even in nostalgia and regret, the voice is neither sentimental nor self-absorbed. Chabon simply tells his stories.
This review was originally published in October 2009, and has been updated for the May 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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