Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449
“Son of the Wolfman” appears in Chabon’s collection Werewolves in Their Youth (1999), in which several stories have a gothic subtext and feature werewolf imagery. When Cara’s baby is overdue, she has a nightmare about a hairy, stooped creature that she recognizes, even in her dream, as representing her rapist. Her son is born with a faint down covering his shoulders and back. Such devices establish some emotional distance from the characters and their desperate situation. Chabon employs the mythology of popular culture in this story and elsewhere to walk a fine line between the ironic and the heartbreaking, though finally his methods are more traditionally realistic than postmodern.
Chabon creates his setting with just a few broad strokes and without resorting to detailed descriptions. He provides just enough information about Los Angeles and the Hollywood milieu to create the necessary verisimilitude, using only a few show-business references. For example, Cara and Richard once had as a neighbor a palmist who claimed to have warned Bob Crane to change his wicked ways. Because this once successful television actor was a victim of murder, the reference is fitting in a story about how one violent act can radically change lives.
Cara and Richard essentially live in a world of make-believe whose superficiality is challenged by the rapist’s act. Richard’s need for the comforting cocoon of this world is shown by his fleeing to the job in Seattle to avoid his marital responsibilities and by his need to photograph the birth. Having a camera in his hands provides a degree of control missing from his life since the rape threw everything into chaos.
In both short fiction and novels, Chabon’s greatest strength is perhaps his finely drawn characters. Cara and Richard’s actions are always logical if occasionally infuriating. Even the members of the supporting cast are well drawn. Dorothy exists primarily as a plot device to spur Richard to action, yet she is also a well-rounded character, a woman who has seen just about everything but has not allowed her experiences to make her cynical. Her refusal to patronize the couple stands out; her humanity is a constant.
Most of all, however, Chabon is a consummate yet subtle stylist. He writes in a deceptively simple, often witty, metaphorical style that rarely calls attention to itself. He is a poet of middle-class failure, loss, despair, and redemption. As his moving portrait of Richard illustrates, no one writes more perceptively about the American manchild. While stories such as “Son of the Wolfman” may remind some of the writings of Raymond Carver, John Cheever, or John Updike, Chabon’s blending of style, theme, and characterization is distinctively his own.
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