On Michael Chabon’s A Model World and Other Stories

I’ve been meaning to read Michael Chabon for quite a while now and I think it was important to begin it with one of his first books, lest I again do the mistake of reading a better work then making the rather unsure pursuit of backtracking the author’s backlist expecting the same beauty and reverence that first book gave you (which I unfortunately experienced with Jeanette Winterson, when I first read Written on the Body, before reading her acclaimed debut, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, which I found to be unsatisfying).

A Model World and Other Stories was a very enjoyable collection, which I read thoroughly in less than five hours, during a particularly hot Sunday afternoon. Divided into two parts, the first section, entitled “A Model World,” comprises of six delightful narratives highlighting Chabon’s talent as a storyteller. In these stories, we are able to see his investment in his characters, the subtle technique he employs in exploring their whole life against the backdrop of a single moment, and even his careful but elegant analysis of their melancholia and solitude. At the same time, we are show his dedication to popular American culture and how it plays a pivotal role in the lives of his characters, whether it be something as common as the typical American wedding, to baseball, comic books and the American college experience.  The second section of the book is truly the best part of the story. Perfectly entitled “The Lost World,” it consists of five interlocking short stories concerning Nathan’s childhood and adolescence. From “The Little Knife,” which talks about his parent’s divorce, to “More than Human” and “Admirals,” which delves into the aftermath of divorce and the ever-pressing issue of sibling rivalry, to “The Halloween Party” and finally, “The Lost World,” where Nathan first feels desire and love and the sadness that comes along with it, Michael Chabon has rendered the entire excruciating progress of growing up. Other than the fact that I absolutely loved it that these stories represented a section of much a larger picture yet built to still have the ability to stand alone, I am in complete adoration of Chabon’s project which involves mapping out the entire erratic emotional landscape traversed in that transition from boyhood to manhood. I’m not talking about a single section of growth, or a particular angst, or a a unique pivotal experience, what Chabon showed is its utter entirety. It begins with the shattering of innocence and stability, the realization that life is full of unexpectedness and sadness, via divorce, a shattering that becomes more and more common. It continues with the ordeal that comes afterwards, and everything that comes along with it, the burden of nostalgia, the need for survival, and the irrepressible act to long for something and to fight for something, to conquer, to own, and to win. Finally, after the entire trauma caused by divorce, the irony comes, that need to fall in love, to be with someone, to be in that trap which has shattered you in the first place. And it is beautiful, especially with Chabon’s eloquence and wit.

I’ve always been attracted to initiation stories. I’ve always loved them. No other form of fiction can move me more than a very good initiation story, from JD Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye, to Gilda Cordero Fernando’s A Wilderness of Sweets, to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, to Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus and Eleanor Rigby. Chabon’s A Model World and Other Stories  now rank among my favorites. And yes, I’ve become a Chabonite and I think it’s time to put Manhood for Amateurs and The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to my reading list.

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