With its intoxicating hilarity masking a hidden depth of sadness, Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys is one of my favourite novels of all time.
So, as I kick off this list of twelve books I truly adore, it seems perfectly fitting to start with this one.
For the unfamiliar, Wonder Boys is the story of Grady Tripp, an overweight, over-sexed, chronic pot smoker whose life is about to spiral rapidly out of control.
When we first meet Tripp, we discover that his wife has left him, his affair with the chancellor of the university where he works as a creative writing professor is in danger, and his marajuana habit has gotten seriously out of control.
As if that wasn’t enough, his friend/editor is coming to town and wants to read the novel Grady has been working on for years with no real end in sight.
The best part?
That’s all just for starters.
From there, Tripp begins a scramble to get a finished draft of the novel together, all whilst stumbling from one absurd situation to the next.
En route, he collects an odd assortment of things, including a dead dog, a snake, a tuba, a jacket that once belong to Marilyn Monroe, and a transvestite.
It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, frequently hillarious, and yet at the same time rather tragic.
With the latest in a long line of women walking out on him, his current lover pregnant with his child and his own ability as a writer in question, Grady tumbling through the storm of his own life and asking the same kind of questions I’ve found myself asking a thousand times before:
“What the hell is wrong with me?
“Why can’t I just be happy?
“Why do I continually reach for the self-destruct button?”
Among the flickering moments that Tripp genuinely seeks to find an answer for those questions, Wonder Boys reveals the kind of poignancy that steers it away from being just another farcical comedy and into something much greater.
That something is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, an absolute favourite that I return to time and time again for three simple reasons:
- It makes me laugh
- It reminds me of the great many challenges I face with my own writing
- It contains a central character that I relate to arguably more than any other figure in literature.