December 08, 2009

Chabon's Memoir

"Hey, you got poetry in my prose."

"Hey, you've prose in my poetry."
Two great tastes in one book: Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs. Not since the invention of the Reese Cup have I been as impressed. (Said merely for hyperbolic effect.)

Chabon paradoxically desires to be a hero while at the same time tending towards inertia, fear of change, and desirous of a strong woman as partner. Of his desire to rescue without being able to, he writes pithily: "In all that time, though there have been many other leapers, I have never managed to catch a single one, or learned how to stand back and just watch them fall."

Elsewhere there's lyricism:
There was a childish note of shame in her voice, and as I came into the sweltering bedroom of her lover and caught her smell of lily of the valley, I felt my heart, like a muscular reflex or spasm, forgive her.
He writes of that fork in the road in many a relationship, that epochal moment when the Clash "should I stay or should I go?" has life-altering consequences, even eternal consequences. In my case I can remember it so clearly - a grand, knock-down, drag-out verbal fight with my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I was walking out and I knew in an instant that if I walked out I would never see her again - but then I didn't. Here's Chabon writing of the drama of someone wanting to be his friend when he was a child:
I stood there at the front door with nothing in particular to do - I think I was reading a book when he knocked, likely some book I had already read - no good friend my age to speak of, no plausible excuse to send him away, though every strand and dendrite of instinct crying out to be left alone to my friendless but well-planned solitude...
Later his friend tried to set him up with a blind date and he resisted initially:
I could feel the familiar sensation as I said goodbye to him, the train pulling away from the platform, the call to adventure fading on the air, the tumult in the blood as the moon tries to fight its way out from behind a cloud and turn a man to a wolfman. Longing for change and fearing it, caught in a tissue woven of dread and regret shot through with purest gold threads of a yearning to get out of my book, my room, my house, my body, my skull, my life.

'All right," I said, as I had said to him when he bicycled over with his backgammon board. 'Just give me her number.'

Not very long afterward, in an ongoing act of surrender to the world beyond my window, with no possibility of knowing what joy or disaster might result, I married her.
He writes of a comic strip heroine, "Big Barda" as "reconfiguring the erotic topography of my brain." A perfect way to describe that phenomenon.

Other lines:
At the art of restrospection I was a young grandmaster. (If only there were a game of missed opportunities and of things lost and irrecoverable, a knack for the belated recognition of truths, for the exploitation of chances in imagination after it is too late!)


Steven said...

Dear TSO,

You make me want to give it another chance. I read about half and was so repulsed by the vulgarity of language and incident that I gave it up. (The bit about his sexual experiences was really TMI). I like Chabon, but I've pretty much decided that it must be in measured doses in discrete genres. But your enthusiasm is contagious and as such may lure me back to the source.



TS said...

Wow, didn't think you'd be repulsed since I'd always assumed you had a pretty high tolerance for TMI! (Anyone who's read Roth anyway.)

You're very right about parts of it being TMI and I wouldn't want to read it in one sitting since there's an occasional "ick" factor that 'cumulates, but when the book's good, it's very, very good, to paraphrase Ms. West.

Steven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven said...

Dear TSO,

I think (and now I'll be talking out of both sides of my mouth) that it is the fact that this is at least supposedly true. You're right--Roth is over the top--sometimes aggressively so--but often there seems to be a purpose, and sometimes that purpose may be critical of the events described. Chabon's book was purportedly describing real events, and I think that is what turned my stomach. I just don't need to know that much about what real people do.

But you're right--there is certainly a double standard--and I have to admit that I find both Roth and Updike difficult going for aforementioned delicacy of disposition.

And Chabon can be very, very good. I guess I'll just have to screw my courage to the sticking point and drive myself through it.



TS said...

Ah yes now I see. Excellent points.