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.