“Anyonewho 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 favorablewords 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 squarelyon the pulse of the American male sensibility (at least as far this femalereviewer 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, isan introspective, deeply personal examination of family relationships, both what theymean and, especially, they feel. Probing his past, celebrating his present, hisprose 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 havelooked up to a variety of heroes; all of us have been insecure and frightened; we allcontinue 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 hisfiction? That is a question beyond the scope of this review but an interesting onefor his readers to mull. This extraordinary essay collection is a must-read formen, women and all of the above.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.