Wonder Boys: A Twist on the Campus Novel
‘For the one thousandth time I resorted to the nine-page plot outline, single-spaced, tattered and coffee-stained, that I’d fired off on a vainglorious April morning five years before . . . An accidental poisoning, a car crash, a house on fire; the birth of three children and a miraculous trotter named Faithless; a theft, an arrest, a trial, an electrocution, a wedding, two funerals, a cross-country trip; two dances, a seduction in a fall-out shelter, and a deer hunt; all these scenes and a dozen others I had yet to write . . . .’
Ah, the joys of the campus novel (Lucky Jim, Eating People is Wrong, The History Man): libidinous lecturers, hapless students, unwritten books. The variation here is that Grady Tripp is a lecturer in creative writing and his unfinished book is a novel with the title, Wonder Boys. Chabron’s novel, also titled Wonder Boys (1995), takes place over the single weekend of the yearly Wordfest conference and is almost as eventful as Tripp’s, involving a collapsing marriage, a pregnant mistress, a stolen car, a dead dog, a tuba, a boa constrictor named Grossman, the ermine-lined jacket in which Marilyn Monroe married Joe Dimaggio, and more. All the while, Tripp is tussling with his monstrous albatross of a novel. He himself was once a wonder boy, full of promise, but is he now a washed-up, dope-addled, middle-aged has-been who has never grown-up? Well, yes, but perhaps that’s not quite all he is. Chabron is a writer of such verve and exuberance and good will, that though I didn’t exactly sympathise with Tripp, I couldn’t help but be carried along and enjoy the ride.
Wonder Boys was also turned into an excellent film, starring Michael Douglas.