Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son

HarperCollins   2009

 
"Anyone who has ever received a bad review,” writes Michael Chabon in a somewhat different context, “knows how it outlasts, by decades, the memory of a favorable word.” Well, don’t worry, Michael, nothing but favorable words will be heard here. They may not match the elegant style of your wordsmith ways, but they are, nonetheless, favorable, indeed. You have put your finger squarely on the pulse of the American male sensibility (at least as far this female reviewer can see) and you have teased out some basic truths about us and our society, our past and our future. 
This book of essays was preceded by some buzz. Chabon’s wife, novelist Ayelet Waldman, gave an interview averring that she loves her husband more than their children. Controversy, of course, abounded and she subsequently published a book of essays about mothering (see facing column). Chabon’s collection, whether or not a reaction to the hoopla, is an introspective, deeply personal examination of family relationships, both what they mean and, especially, they feel. Probing his past, celebrating his present, his prose here, as in his fiction, is seductive and alluring, drawing the reader into his orbit, evoking sympathy and a strong sense of identification. Some of us have been sci-fi geeks; some of us have lived through gradually souring relationships; most of us have looked up to a variety of heroes; all of us have been insecure and frightened; we all continue to learn and grow. As we read, we gaze into the mirror and evaluate our own relationships, our loves, our lives, ourselves. 
How much of what Chabon reveals here about his life is reflected in his fiction? That is a question beyond the scope of this review but an interesting one for his readers to mull. This extraordinary essay collection is a must-read for men, women and all of the above.    


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