Chabon, Michael (Short Story Criticism)
Michael Chabon 1963 -
American short story writer and novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Chabon's short fiction career through 1999.
Chabon is considered one of America's most talented and popular fiction writers. Regarded as a skilled storyteller, his short stories and novels evoke the intense longing and emotional scarring that often accompanies adolescence, broken families, sexual initiation, and unrequited love. Chabon's protagonists—typically confused teenagers and disillusioned men—are often tragicomic figures who fall victim to their own earnestness, infatuations, and obsessive need to make sense of their lives.
Born in Washington, D.C., Chabon is the child of accomplished professional parents. Chabon was primarily raised in Columbia, Maryland, a progressive planned living community in which racial, economic, and religious diversity were actively fostered. At an early age Chabon envisioned a future for himself as a writer. After a year at Carnegie Mellon University, Chabon transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where he received an undergraduate degree in 1984. In 1987 Chabon entered and won a short story contest sponsored by Mademoiselle Magazine. His first book, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), was written as his thesis while pursuing his master of fine arts degree at the University of California, Irvine. Without his knowledge, two of Chabon's professors sent the manuscript to an agent in New York City. Within two months, Chabon's book was sold to a publisher and the young author quickly rose to prominence. His novel Wonder Boys (1995) became a best-seller and won recognition as a New York Times Notable Book in 1995. The novel was adapted to a film in 1999. Chabon's short fiction has appeared in various periodicals, including Gentleman's Quarterly, Esquire, and the New Yorker. In 1996 and 2002, respectively, Chabon wrote introductions for Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories, a collection of comic strip stories by Ben Katchor, and Casting the Runes: And Other Ghost Stories by the late-Victorian horror author M. R. James. In 2000 he published the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which, in addition to winning the 2001 Pulitzer Prize, was nominated for the National Book Critics' Circle Award in 2000.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Chabon's first short story collection, A Model World, and Other Stories (1991), consists of eleven stories, many of which previously appeared in the New Yorker. The first six stories address various aspects of love and disappointment, as in “Blumenthal on the Air,” in which an American disc jockey falls in love with an Iranian woman. He marries her to secure her U.S. citizenship, but his new wife ultimately rejects his love and leaves him. The final five stories, a linked sequence entitled “The Lost World,” describe the effect of divorce on a boy named Nathan Shapiro. “The Little Knife” explores ten-year-old Nathan's growing realization that his parents will divorce; “More Than Human” focuses on the transition period of his parents' separation, during which Nathan views his father as unable to protect him from pain; “Admirals” takes place eighteen months after the divorce, when Nathan's father has decided to remarry; “The Halloween Party” relates Nathan's excruciating crush on one of his mother's married friends; and the title story, “The Lost World,” concludes the sequence as Nathan, a sixteen-year-old virgin, is unable to bring about a sexual encounter with his neighbor, Chaya. The short stories of Werewolves in Their Youth (1999) probe the undercurrents of depravity and criminal desire that lurk within decent, law-abiding people. In “Green's Book,” a thirteen-year-old boy feels a sexual urge for the four-year-old girl whom he baby-sits. Though he does not act on the urge, the fact that he experienced it haunts him years later. Despite the fact that he has become a psychologist, he still perceives himself to be a dangerous man. Another story, “Son of the Wolfman,” involves a married couple who, after trying and failing to conceive, must cope after the wife is raped and becomes pregnant. The concluding story, “In the Black Mill,” is a mock horror story attributed to August van Zorn, a fictitious pulp writer Chabon created in Wonder Boys. In 2003 Chabon contributed to and edited McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, a short story anthology of adventure and action tales by contemporary authors, such as Michael Crichton, Stephen King, and Rick Moody.
Chabon's short fiction has garnered mixed critical reviews. Some reviewers consider his short stories inconsistent in quality and sometimes shallow, two-dimensional, and lacking in genuine emotion. Despite these criticisms, a majority of critics note Chabon's rich prose and strong narrative skill, emphasizing his ability to sketch vivid characters and subtle scenes in sophisticated language enlivened by perceptive use of metaphor. Critics have frequently cited an underlying element of nostalgia and optimism in Chabon's work, which is regarded by many as a refreshing contrast to the nihilism and self-pity in much contemporary fiction. Likewise, Chabon's lack of authorial narcissism and his emphasis on plot and character is viewed by many reviewers as a notable departure from the solipsism and trendy artifice of recent postmodern fiction. Critics have traced the maturation of Chabon's short fiction and regard him as one of the best American writers today.
A Model World, and Other Stories 1991
Werewolves in Their Youth 1999
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales [contributor and editor] 2003
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (novel) 1988
Wonder Boys (novel) 1995
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: A Novel (novel) 2000
Summerland (juvenilia) 2002
(The entire section is 39 words.)
SOURCE: Review of A Model World, by Michael Chabon. Publishers Weekly 238, no. 6 (1 February 1991): 67.
[In the following review, the critic applauds the stories of A Model World for their subtle irony, vivid characters, and effective understatement.]
An exceptional collection of short stories [A Model World] follows Chabon's well received debut novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. These subtly ironic tales have a brevity and clarity that allows Chabon's bittersweet observations to hit home. Understatement is Chabon's talent; using words economically, he deftly creates believable situations made remarkable by underlying twists of motivation and behavior. His vivid characters share the need to feel accepted and loved by others. In “S Angel” Ira, a drama student at UCLA, attends his favorite cousin Sheila's wedding and falls for a party guest named Carmen—an abrasive, unstable woman who is unresponsive to his flirtations. It's as much a surprise to the reader as to Ira when he realizes his true affections for Sheila. The unpredictability of love surfaces again in the dryly witty “Ocean Avenue,” in which Bobby Lazar, an architect in Laguna Beach, runs into his ex-lover, Suzette, a painfully thin exercise fanatic, and finds he can't suppress his indefinable feelings for her, despite the chaos they bring to each other's lives. Chabon's characters manage to find joy amidst...
(The entire section is 221 words.)
SOURCE: Henderson, David W. Review of A Model World, by Michael Chabon. Library Journal 116, no. 3 (15 February 1991): 219.
[In the following review of A Model World, Henderson asserts that Chabon is one of the best young American fiction writers today.]
This collection of 11 stories [A Model World] by the author of the well-received Mysteries of Pittsburgh should help cement Chabon's status as one of the best of America's young fiction writers. Each of the stories concerns an individual's adaptation to a changed relationship, be it with wife (or ex-wife), friend, lover, or parent. Particularly evocative are the five final stories which fall under the rubric “The Lost World.” They deal with a boy's response to his parents' divorce and their subsequent attempts to establish new partnerships. Chabon writes with intelligence, humor, and an obvious love of language. In the first story's marvelous opening paragraph, the protagonist goes from performing his toilet “with patience, hope, and a ruthless punctilic” to sitting in the back at his cousin's wedding “awash in a nostalgic tedium … wishing for irretrievable things.” It leaves one hoping that, like Dr. Shapiro in “More Than Human.” Chabon never surrenders his love for “the soothing foolishness of words.” If he keeps developing, he will become a major force in American fiction. Essential for all public and...
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SOURCE: Frank, Jeffrey A. “Confessions of a Young Man.” Washington Post Book World (7 April 1991): X5.
[In the following review of A Model World, Frank maintains that Chabon's prose is “technically terrific,” but that his stories are narrow in scope and not very interesting.]
One often hears, though usually several years after the fact, that an author's work was “reviewed respectfully.” Such a loaded phrase, and yet it perfectly sums up the spirit of some notices—including this one of Michael Chabon's new short-story collection.
Chabon is, in the technical sense, a terrific writer, able to come up with smart epigrammatic turns like these: “If you can still see how you once have loved a person, you are still in love; an extinct love is always wholly incredible.” And sharp glances of self-recognition: “He worried that his pants were too tight across the seat, that his gait was hitched and dorky, that his hands swung chimpishly at his sides.”
Yet his new book, A Model World and Other Stories, suggests that he has not yet become a very interesting writer—although now and then he comes close. I suspect that is because Chabon is still caught up in the life and obsessions of the recent college graduate, or postgraduate (even when the terrain is something else), and his world will seem almost terrifyingly narrow to many readers. It will...
(The entire section is 724 words.)
SOURCE: Cryer, Dan. “Bittersweet and Savory Stories of Love and Loss.” Newsday (8 April 1991): B46.
[In the following review, Cryer calls Chabon a gifted young writer, and applauds his fresh style, lyrical use of language, unexpected plot twists, and sense of humor in A Model World.]
Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was one of the literary delectations of 1988 and offered a number of surprises. A charming coming-of-age tale, the book held up heterosexual and homosexual love as worthy equals. Emerging from a university writing program, it eschewed the fashionable minimalism of the young. And, I swear, the novel really did invest Pittsburgh, that gray workhorse of cities, with an aura of the fabulous. Most significant, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh signaled the emergence of a powerfully gifted young writer, enthralling in his ability to turn language into song. Scott Fitzgerald, with good reason, was the name on reviewers' lips.
As a writer of stories, Chabon maintains his interest in love and loss, but hones his style into something a bit less exuberant, less given to expansive flight, yet supple enough for every narrative task.
The stories collected in A Model World, most of which appeared originally in The New Yorker, are of two kinds. The first half of the book, subtitled “A Model World,” explores the...
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SOURCE: Gilbert, Matthew. “Clever Portraits of the Twenty-Somethings.” Boston Globe (11 April 1991): 70.
[In the following mixed review of A Model World, Gilbert contrasts the stories in the first half of the book to those stories in the “The Lost World” section.]
Late, late, late adolescence is Michael Chabon's favorite territory, miles after coming-of-age city but just before the dunes of yuppie angst. They are the neither years, when friends mistakenly become lovers, and lovers quickly become embarrassments. Amid the drunken dinner parties and underheated apartments, confused desires run amok. In his first story collection, A Model World, which follows his acclaimed first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), Chabon takes on the terrible 20s with a fine eye and an eloquent tongue. Not to mention a little cheek. It's not a particularly original subject, really; the entire Brat Pack ouevre has depended on fecklessness and hormonal anarchy for its fuel. But Chabon's prose is so delicately layered, his sentences so clever, the subject is given the finer perspective it deserves. Among his quickly disappointing deadpan peers, he stands out as a lively, intelligent writer with a future.
In most of the stories in the first section of A Model World, you can see Chabon winking, remaining one step removed from his troubled young heroes. In the title...
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SOURCE: Montrose, David. “Another Last Summer.” Times Literary Supplement (26 April 1991): 20.
[In the following review, Montrose asserts that although the stories in A Model World are flawed, the volume should be regarded as an early work by a promising young author.]
Over recent years, certain hypesters in American publishing have managed to pass off a potential to achieve great things some day as great things already achieved. The result has been a string of young writers whose books possessed, the PR went, serious literary merit as well as impressive sales.
Michael Chabon's novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988) was the unlikeliest bestseller of the bunch. The hype-assisted successes of Less Than Zero, Slaves of New York and Bright Lights, Big City were not unexpected, given that fictional guides to new lifestyles have been popular, and overpraised, at least since F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise supposedly anatomized the Jazz Age. Chabon's book, however, lacked that brand of currency, harking back ten years, to before AIDS and the cocaine boom. In addition, for all narrator Art Bechstein's active bisexuality, it was an unusually genteel work: Bechstein and his raffish circle were pretty subdued in their misbehaviour, notably in preferring booze to drugs; Chabon's elegant, albeit affectation-peppered, prose and mythopoeic/nostalgic...
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SOURCE: Gowen, Anne. “Author Creates Vanished World of Nostalgia, Colorful Things.” Washington Times (29 April 1991): F3.
[In the following favorable review, Gowen considers the role of nostalgia in A Model World.]
Early on in one of Michael Chabon's stories, young Nathan Shapiro finds himself in the middle of what will be his family's last vacation to Nags Head, N.C. Staying at a rustic hotel called the Sandpiper, his parents about to separate, he is filled with a strange, inexplicable feeling brought on by the sight of an old bottle-dispensing Coke machine.
“The sight of the faded machine and of the whole Sandpiper,” Mr. Chabon writes, “filled Nathan with a happy sadness, or, really, a sad happiness; he was not too young, at ten, to have developed a sense of nostalgia.”
Nostalgia is a favorite word in A Model World. The sadness of things lost, or perhaps never attained, haunts these fine stories like the faraway notes of a '60s love song. The irony is, of course, that Mr. Chabon also is not too young, at 27, to have developed a sense of nostalgia. In 1988, he burst onto the literary scene with the jaunty The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which earned for its author a contract worth ＄155,000, the highest price ever for a literary debut.
This, his second work—a collection of stories, several of which originally were published...
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SOURCE: Younson, Cheryl. “Growing Pains.” Sunday Times (19 May 1991): F4.
[In the following review, Younson contends that the stories in A Model World are insightful, charming, sensitive, and thoughtful.]
Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, inspired a blaze of publicity three years ago, which hailed him, among other things, as the new Scott Fitzgerald. A hard act to follow, but, with his first collection of stories, Chabon has just about managed to justify the hype. In A Model World he retains the breezy style of the first book, a precocious tale of youthful angst and confused sexuality.
Chabon has lost none of his easy charm or adroit observation, but the overwrought agonisings of his first novel have been replaced by a cooler, more thoughtful approach; he has developed a satisfying hint of world-weariness, of gentle mockery. For example, in the story “S Angel,” Ira experiences the stirrings of sexual attraction, followed by rejection, in the space of one afternoon, and ruefully comes “face to face with the distinct possibility that not only would he never find the one he was meant to find, but no one else ever did, either”. In “Millionaires,” a young man bent on seduction gets as far as the bedroom, and realises he is “being suffered, like a smelly old dog on a miserable night, just this once allowed to sleep indoors”....
(The entire section is 476 words.)
SOURCE: Tallent, Elizabeth. “The Pleasure of His Company.” Los Angeles Times (9 June 1991): 3, 8.
[In the following review of A Model World, Tallent regards Chabon's stories as inventive, insightful, and engaging.]
Michael Chabon writes a prose so engaging—so rapid, graceful, allusive, and resourceful—that its reader can't help feeling flattered, singled out for brilliant attention, as when a witty friend brings every last ounce of vivacity to a conversation.
In the novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon's first book, joi de vivre was half the story. The other half was a diligently plotted plot, variously enamored characters, a brooding gangster father and the young narrator's troubled decoding of his own sexuality. The novel included, as an anti-romantic element, the industrial swelter of summer Pittsburgh, yet it was romance, really, that carried the day.
It was a largely unclouded summer's day: The exhalations of factories never smelled toxic, fear of AIDS did not haunt gay sex, and the mourners at a funeral included “drunks, mysterious riffraff” and a grieving girlfriend dressed to achieve an effect of “comic sadness.” If the other characters' escapades seemed sometimes less absorbing than the narrator's changeable, resplendent sensibility, there was not a dead moment, stylistically, in the entire book. In its elan, the...
(The entire section is 1129 words.)
SOURCE: Callahan, Susan. Review of A Model World, by Michael Chabon. School Library Journal 38, no. 3 (March 1992): 266.
[In the following review of A Model World, Callahan praises Chabon for his delightful characters, light irony, and well-crafted prose.]
Originally published in The New Yorker and other magazines, these short stories [in A Model World] are delightful in their portrayal of characters, the light irony of the situations, and the flow of the sentences. Chabon deftly paints humorously odd people floundering for fulfillment. In the first part, readers glide into a kaleidoscope of worlds—a Jewish wedding in Los Angeles; Laguna Beach with an estranged couple; Paris with an American do-gooder; Pittsburgh with a down-and-out baseball catcher, a disc jockey, and a blundering toy maker; and finally duplicity in academe. Chabon's stories will captivate creative writing students, students of literature, and casual readers alike.
(The entire section is 141 words.)
SOURCE: Johnson, Greg. “Heart Troubles.” Georgia Review 46, no. 2 (summer 1992): 358-60.
[In the following excerpt, Johnson finds A Model World to be “at once an immensely promising and curiously disappointing book.”]
Jane Austen declared that there were only two things worth writing about: love and money. Though one might wonder how Austen's sensibility would have coped with an era of AIDS and Reaganomics, it's clear from the lively gathering of short-story volumes reviewed here that contemporary writers are finding a particularly rich source of narrative possibilities in the conflict between the ageless intensity of passion and some of the bizarre conditions—by turns tragic, heartening, and absurd—of late twentieth-century America. Like the culture itself, current fiction is reflecting with admirable honesty the diversity of human love—there are convincing portrayals of gay, lesbian, and interracial relationships in these volumes—and it's equally encouraging that the fortunate decline of minimalism as a relevant force in American fiction appears to be giving younger writers the freedom to demonstrate their passion for language in exploring the various passions of their characters.
Youthful love and longing are at the center of Michael Chabon's first collection, A Model World. Reviewers of his best-selling debut novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,...
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SOURCE: Fowler, Douglas. “The Short Fiction of Michael Chabon: Nostalgia in the Very Young.” Studies in Short Fiction 32, no. 1 (winter 1995): 75-82.
[In the following essay, Fowler discusses the themes of memory, nostalgia, and family in Chabon's short stories.]
The heavy burden of the growing soul Perplexes and offends more, day by day; Week by week, offends and perplexes more With the imperatives of ‘is and seems’ And may and may not, desire and control. The pain of living and the drug of dreams Curl up the small soul in the window seat Behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
—T. S. Eliot, “Animula”
At its best, Michael Chabon's fiction depicts the nostalgia his characters feel for their former lives, which they have seen severed from them through an aboriginal emotional catastrophe. This sense of an intense nostalgia permeating his fictional world is all the more striking since Chabon's subjects are almost always young and bright and socially advantaged Jewish males, and his prose style is urbane, vivacious, and decorated with end-of-the-century American proper nouns and brand names—for it is in no sense misleading to point out that all 12 stories constituting Chabon's 1991 story collection A Model World were first published in The New Yorker, Gentleman's Quarterly, and Mademoiselle. But in poignant contrast to the glossy surface of...
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SOURCE: Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon. Kirkus Reviews (1 November 1998): 1549.
[In the following review of Werewolves in Their Youth, the critic derides the volume for its unoriginal and uninteresting stories.]
[Werewolves in Their Youth is a] mixed second collection of nine stories by novelist Chabon (A Model World, 1991; Wonder Boys, 1995, etc.), mostly set in the Pacific Northwest.
Domestic life has been the dominant subject of literary stories for many years, and the variations on it seem to be pretty well played out by now. Most of the characters in Chabon's tales are afflicted family men and women trying without apparent success to repair their failing relations with spouses or children. “Son of the Wolfman,” for example, describes the stress placed upon an already-teetering marriage when the childless wife becomes pregnant as a result of rape and decides to keep the baby. “The Harris Fetko Story” portrays the tensions separating a professional football player from his remarried father. In “Spikes,” a husband reluctantly participates in the divorce proceedings initiated by his wife, while “Mrs. Box” tells how a bankrupt optometrist fails in his attempt to rob his ex-wife's senile mother and is robbed himself in the process. Some of the pieces move uncomfortably to the edges of surrealism, where they're...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon. Publishers Weekly (23 November 1998): 57.
[In the following review of Werewolves in Their Youth, the reviewer praises Chabon's verbal wit, dark ironies, and sympathetic, three-dimensional characters.]
Applying his ironic talents to even darker material than in previous outings, Chabon [in Werewolves in Their Youth] has produced a winning collection of nine stories. Failed marriages haunt almost all the protagonists; personal disasters, depressive malaise and sexual violence are recurring themes. In “House Hunting,” a realtor is more intent on stealing objects from a house than on showing it to his clients, a troubled young couple. His bizarre incompetence increases the tension between them, finally driving them into one another's arms. A young man flees town in “Mrs. Box,” hoping to leave the twin disasters of his marriage and his business behind. He stops to visit his wife's senile grandmother and suddenly resolves to rob her of her jewelry, only to find a half-measure of redemption when his plan misfires. In the title story, Paul is the only one on the school playground who can call Timothy back from his werewolf fantasy, but Paul, who is already taunted for smelling weird, can't risk being associated too closely with his strange pal. As a result, Timothy attacks a fellow student and is reassigned to a...
(The entire section is 298 words.)
SOURCE: Seaman, Donna. Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon. Booklist (15 December 1998): 726.
[In the following review of Werewolves in Their Youth, Seaman commends the volume for its remarkable prose, inventive stories, and richly textured narratives.]
In his fourth book [Werewolves in Their Youth], Chabon again displays his nimble irony, sense of narrative adventure, flair for constructing astonishingly thorny predicaments, and remarkable facility with language. If there is a shared theme among the nine glimmering stories collected here, it is the puzzlements of fatherhood. In “Green's Book,” a divorced father of a toddler, the charming Jocelyn, feels rueful about his career as a family therapist. In the delectably complex “The Harris Fetko Story.” a grown son is reconciled with his estranged father at the bris of his baby stepbrother. And finally, in the wrenching “Son of the Wolfman,” a husband struggles mightily to summon the strength to be a father to the child sired by the man who raped his wife. Brief synopses can't begin to convey the rich texture of Chabon's involved tales, or his masterful renderings of the shifting emotional strata of troubled relationships, a sensitivity he gleefully abandons in “In the Black Mill,” a marvelously gothic tale, à la Shirley Jackson.
(The entire section is 204 words.)
SOURCE: Burkhardt, Joanna M. Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon. Library Journal 124, no. 1 (January 1999): 161.
[In the following review, Burkhardt lauds Werewolves in Their Youth for its remarkably crafted stories and skillful rendering of intricate emotional responses.]
This collection of short stories [Werewolves in Their Youth] from novelist Chabon reveals the intricacies of emotion in the lives of everyday people. Chabon's central figures are beset by divorce: the pressures that cause it, the traumas that accompany it, and the aftershock and readjustment that follow. Whether children or adults, they struggle to manage in situations that are not always so manageable. From the fat boy trying to reunite his estranged parents to the husband helping his wife give birth to the child of a rapist, these remarkably crafted stories explore life at the lunar extreme that brings out the werewolf in the human condition. Yet Chabon magically instills a ray of hope, even in his most desperate characters. For most collections.
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SOURCE: Solomon, Chris. “Werewolves: Life Stories with Bite.” Seattle Times (7 February 1999): M10.
[In the following review, Solomon asserts that the stories in Werewolves in Their Youth are funny and well-crafted.]
Disturbing and glib, outrageous, sad and poetic at turns, Michael Chabon's stories embrace the major heartbreaks and minor debacles that congeal into, well, life—though it is a life Chabon's characters would never have chosen had they seen it coming.
Regret, and then something that passes for acceptance and fragile hope, abound in Chabon's new collection, Werewolves in Their Youth. Frequently very funny and always told with precise, astringent prose, these nine stories may be his best work yet. That says a great deal, for the author is his own hardest act to follow. Each of Chabon's previous books—The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, A Model World and Wonder Boys—presented readers with jumbled young lives in various stages of metamorphosis.
In Werewolves [Werewolves in Their Youth], many of the characters, like former Vashon Island resident Chabon himself, have now reached their 30s, gotten hitched and had children. They find, however, that some virulent new strain of the Seven-Year Itch infects them even before they reach their Glass Anniversary.
Consider Eddie Zwang in “Mrs. Box,” a...
(The entire section is 640 words.)
SOURCE: Lange, Alexandra. Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon. New York (15 February 1999): 59.
[In the following review of Werewolves in Their Youth, Lange faults the volume for its weak characters, ineffective plots, and generally lifeless stories.]
Werewolves in Their Youth, Michael Chabon's new story collection, reads as if he sat down and thought, What's the worst thing one could do? Betray a childhood friend, steal from an ex-wife's grandmother, sleep with the baby-sitter? He's got them all covered. But his weak-willed characters never go through with their emotional crimes, so the book is filled with almost-disasters. Only “That Was Me” comes to life. Its protagonists, a couple locked in an uneasy battle of wills, have an opaque complexity that passes for nature. “‘What's the story with Olivier?’” he asks her, of her proposed conquest. “‘I think I scared him off with my evident madness.’ ‘Do you want to dance?’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘Let's go home.’ ‘Meaning what?’ said Jake.” The last question—plaintive? manipulative?—is the real horror.
(The entire section is 170 words.)
SOURCE: Fisher, Barbara. Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, by Michael Chabon. Boston Globe (28 February 1999): F2.
[In the following review, Fisher maintains that the stories in Werewolves in Their Youth “are often delightful, always disturbing, and oddly memorable.”]
The people in these stories [in Werewolves in Their Youth] are in trouble, either stuck or becoming unglued. They are trapped in bad marriages, neglectful families, or their own willfulness, stubbornness, and silence. They are thieves, liars, alcoholics, deceivers.
In the best story, the title story of the collection, a boy's wary friendship for another boy unravels as his parents' marriage comes undone and redone. The boys' pretend worlds of ant man and werewolf are not as scary or strange as the adult world around them. In “House Hunting,” a mismatched couple search for the house that will save their marriage and seem, amidst real estate chaos and calamity, to find it. The “Son of the Wolfman” turns out to be the perfect baby who will not only recompense his mother for rape but reconcile her to her husband. And in the most disturbing story, “Green's Book,” Green relives a horrifying childhood event with his daughter, with the promise that the repetition will somehow undo the horror.
In most of the stories, troubling event and affect linger after the plot has...
(The entire section is 282 words.)
SOURCE: Greif, Mark. “No Potions in the Lab.” Times Literary Supplement (5 March 1999): 23.
[In the following review of Werewolves in Their Youth, Greif praises Chabon's stylistic craftsmanship but criticizes the volume as disappointing in its thematic content.]
Men wish they were monsters or criminals in the New America. They aspire to be werewolves, child molesters, rapists and thieves. Fathers dream their sons are monster births. Sons hope their fathers are mad scientists. Couples try to anesthetize themselves to love, trading partners or having sex for medical purposes. None of it works. The American male finds himself bound by a peaceable civilization and unforeseen moral scruples. His transgressions are less dramatic than he thinks.
This frustration, springing from a gap between inner drama and dull reality, touches each of Michael Chabon's characters in his ragtag new collection of stories, Werewolves in Their Youth. All any character wants to be is the kind of person who can do or suffer evil. Instead, each one learns that he's one more example of what Americans know to call a “nice guy”: a man who is decent and good, but ordinary as the wallpaper.
A few wonderful stories are hidden in the middle of the volume. “Green's Book” is a stunner. At the age of thirteen, Green had been tempted by the sex of Ruby, the little girl he was...
(The entire section is 868 words.)
SOURCE: Hynes, James. “Bourgeois Blues.” Washington Post Book World (4 April 1999): X7.
[In the following review, Hynes regards Werewolves in Their Youth as a volume of witty, compassionate, and elegantly written stories.]
Michael Chabon is a rarity among American writers, a wunderkind who not only survived instant and early success but who has thrived and grown, becoming more accomplished and successful with each book. His bestselling first novel, the giddy Mysteries of Pittsburgh, published when he was 24, was aptly described as “a nearly perfect example of the promising first novel,” and his first volume of short stories, A Model World, provided further evidence of the elegance of his prose while demonstrating even more emotional depth and technical control than the novel. Wonder Boys, his second novel and first fully realized work, was a gleefully inventive and hugely entertaining story of writers behaving badly; it managed to be madcap and moving all at once.
Now, with Werewolves in Their Youth, his splendid new volume of short stories, it's possible to speak of a Chabon oeuvre, to recognize a style and certain subject matters as Chabonesque. With wit and compassion, Chabon writes especially well in these stories about pre-teen boys (the title story), the uneasy relationship of parent and child (“Green's Book”), failing relationships...
(The entire section is 882 words.)
SOURCE: Carroll, Michael. “Gothic Irony.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (2 May 1999): 7.
[In the following review of Werewolves in Their Youth, Carroll offers high praise for Chabon's skillful craftsmanship, elegant prose, complex descriptions, and effective use of figurative language.]
A young father haunted by a libidinous past is confronted by the need for real intimacy with his daughter. A couple troubled by an emptiness at the center of their relationship waver on the verge of buying their first house. Two schoolboys with only a single property line and their fatherless suburban households in common meet briefly on the invisible borders of their misfit imaginations and are separated again by the hairy hand of fate. A maturing woman who has spent years of her marriage struggling to have a child is attacked and impregnated by a serial rapist but decides against her husband's wishes not to have an abortion, sending him into sleepless agonies and a torment of cuckoldry and indignation. Conflict, stitched into intricately worked but colorfully descriptive language, characterizes the darker tones that are increasingly favored by Michael Chabon in his new story collection, Werewolves in Their Youth.
A loving craftsman and the author of superb, seemingly alchemically rendered sentences, Chabon has been producing pitch-perfect, at times even dazzling, fiction since he...
(The entire section is 860 words.)
Binelli, Mark. “The Amazing Story of the Comic-Book Nerd Who Won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: A Conversation with Michael Chabon.” Rolling Stone (27 September 2001): 58-62, 78.
Interview with Michael Chabon.
Arditti, Michael. “The Dark Continent.” Times (London) (6 March 1999): 1F.
Review of Werewolves in Their Youth, commenting that each individual story is powerful, but that the collection as a whole is limited in emotional range.
Herold, Kathryn. Review of A Model World, by Michael Chabon. Ploughshares 17, nos. 2-3 (fall 1991): 284.
Review of A Model World, lauding Chabon for the broad range, skillful prose, and satisfying endings of his stories.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Stories of Confusion and Conflict.” New York Times (2 April 1991): 15.
Review of A Model World.
———. “Marriage and Other Things that Can Go Wrong.” New York Times (9 February 1999): E8.
Review of Werewolves in Their Youth.
Koening, Rhoda. Review of A Model World, by Michael Chabon. New York 24, no. 13 (1 April 1991): 63.
Review of A Model World deriding the stories in the volume as...
(The entire section is 220 words.)