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Picks and Pans Review: Wonder Boys

updated 05/01/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/1995 01:00AM

by Michael Chabon

Grady Tripp is an accident waiting to happen. A fat middle-aged pothead of a writer and professor, his book is due and he's nowhere near finished with it. But Tripp is not suffering from writer's block—far from it. His book, Wonder Boys, stands "at two thousand six hundred and eleven pages, each of them revised and rewritten a half dozen times." In other words, it's a mess. To make matters worse, Tripp's editor and old buddy, Terry Crabtree, is about to turn up on his doorstep expecting to see a masterpiece. And that's not the half of it: Tripp is a married man and has been making extracurricular whoopee with the college chancellor, who announces, to his horror and bleary confusion, that she's carrying his child.

In the character of Grady Tripp, Chabon, 31, might be warding off his own demons. After his graduate school thesis, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, spent 12 weeks on the New York Times fiction best-seller list, Chabon, then 26, managed to put together a collection of short stories while he struggled with his second novel for the next five years, before realizing that the 1,500-page clunker he created belonged in a desk drawer. The completely different novel that rose from those ashes is his own ode to the perils of literary success and the travails of a sad-sack writer whose gifts get lost in the slapstick comedy of errors that is his life.

His Wonder Boys, unlike Grady Tripp's novel of the same name, is an enjoyable literary romp, a rollicking fast-paced adventure. By the time it draws to an end, even Tripp has managed to reach a kind of peace as he sits at a bar surrounded by a few young writers, "their hearts filled with the dread and mystery of the books they believed themselves destined to write." One thing seems certain: Chabon is unlikely to ever find himself perched on Tripp's bar stool. (Villard, $23)

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