"Chabon has always been a magical prose stylist, adept at combining the sort of social and emotional detail found in Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus stories with the metaphor-rich descriptions of John Updike and John Irving's inventive sleight of hand.Read more...
"Chabon has always been a magical prose stylist, adept at combining the sort of social and emotional detail found in Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus stories with the metaphor-rich descriptions of John Updike and John Irving's inventive sleight of hand. . . . As in his novels, he shifts gears easily between the comic and the melancholy, the whimsical and the serious, demonstrating once again his ability to write about the big subjects of love and memory and regret without falling prey to the Scylla and Charybdis of cynicism and sentimentality."
-- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Wondrous, wise and beautiful."
-- David Kamp, New York Times Book Review
The bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Werewolves in Their Youth, Wonderboys, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union Michael Chabon "takes his] brutally observant, unfailingly honest, marvelously human gaze and turns it on his own life" (Time) in the New York Times bestselling memoir Manhood for Amateurs.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 131.
- Review Date: 2009-07-20
- Reviewer: Staff
An entertaining omnibus of opinionated essays previously published mostly in Details magazine spotlights novelist Chabon's (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) model of being an attentive, honest father and a fairly observant Jew. Living in Berkeley, Calif., raising four children with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, who has also just published a collection of parenting stories (Bad Mother), Chabon, at 45, revisits his own years growing up in the 1970s with a mixture of rue and relief. A child of the suburbs of Maryland and elsewhere, where children could still play in what he calls in one essay the “Wilderness of Childhood,” he enjoyed a freedom now lost to kids, endured the divorce of his parents, smoked a lot of pot, suffered a short early marriage and finally found his life's partner, who takes risks where he won't. The essays are tidily arranged around themes of manly affection (his first father-in-law, his younger brother); “styles of manhood,” such as faking at being a handyman; and “patterns of early enchantment,” such as his delight in comic books, sci-fi and stargazing. Candid, warm and humorous, Chabon's essays display his habitual attention to craft. (Oct.)
The mysteries of manhood
In popular culture, when men talk about being men they follow a certain formula. We’re probably going to hear about the protagonist looking deeply into the eyes of his firstborn child, his wild single days and the emotional rigors of being a husband. There’s almost a sense that men live the same life; just the names of the primary characters change.
Novelist Michael Chabon’s book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, fits into that paradigm, but not perfectly. Thank goodness. Chabon focuses on the almost-overlooked moments of his life, and the result is a sparkling, clear-headed collection that provides a glorious look at the makeup of a man.
The Pulitzer Prize winner (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; Wonder Boys) waxes poetic about the creative benefits of the crappy TV shows and movies of his youth, compared to the polished, CGI-animated treats of today, which “don’t leave anything implied, unstated, incomplete.” He talks about the growing sense of doom accompanying his daughter’s blossoming into womanhood and how getting a men’s purse, or “murse,” represents one of the key benefits of getting older—not caring what other people think. Chabon also installs a towel rack, worries about his wife and examines other wonders of childhood: getting lost, the seductive power of basements and the shattered world of scatological humor.
As has been observed repeatedly, Chabon is an awesome talent. He’s blessed with observational shrewdness and a gift for nimble wordplay, but that never obscures the points he makes. (That last talent has served him well as a novelist, and it’s especially helpful here.) The essays, most of which previously appeared in Details, are nostalgic, funny and introspective while never straining for style points or wallowing in sentiment. It’s the kind of writing you read twice, not to get a better understanding, but to better appreciate the man’s abilities. Chabon is a regular guy—except that he can expertly explain himself with smooth, embracing eloquence. The rest of us have to stick to the same old story.
Pete Croatto is a New Jersey-based freelance writer.