Wednesday, September 28, 2016

on loving michael chabon

In the uncertain hellscape of the pre-election period, and the more certain hellscape that is twitter dot com, I think it’s really nice that the entire Internet has come together to praise an essay about how much Michael Chabon loves his son. I mean, it's easy to predict the ways in which people must hate it. Thirteen-year-old Abe Chabon is basically the new Tavi Gevinson, with all the sort of queasy questions about the intersection of privilege and talent that comparison implies, and Chabon’s choice to address these questions in the piece itself—a damned-if-you-do-or-if-you-don’t type situation if there ever was one, to be fair—was the wrong one, by my lights, given how defensive and blasé he is about rich people stuff, in turns. Truly, I don’t fault Chabon’s take, though I think it detracted from the essay; if I were a famous rich person with kids (not sure which of those things seems most unlikely), I’d maybe take a similar approach to teaching them the value of the dollar balanced with indulging in expensive things and not feeling too bad about it. Sometimes giving a half-hearted fuck is enough.

House of Chabon
All to say I was sort of braced to see a backlash against that piece that, so far, hasn’t come (or at least I haven’t noticed it yet). Just take the above and throw in some misogyny about what a dumb cunt Ayelet Waldman is and the Gawker piece writes itself. (Predictably, it turns out that the thing I hated all along…is meeeeee.) Peter Thiel is the harbinger of our new nightmare world, and I wish him ill, but those ‘Ayelet Waldman is a cunt’ posts are a good example of everything that was wrong with Gawker. But anyway Chabon's essay has so many little moments I enjoyed:
Some nights I used to stand in the doorway of his bedroom, watching him thoughtfully edit the outfit he planned to wear to school the next day. He would lay out its components, making a kind of flat self-portrait on the bedroom floor—oxford shirt tucked inside of cotton sport coat, extra-slim pants (with the adjustable elastic straps inside the waistband stretched to button at the very last hole), argyle socks, the whole thing topped by the ubiquitous hat—and I would try to understand what the kid got out of dressing up every day like a pint-size Ronald Colman out for a tramp across the countryside of Ruritania.
Admittedly, I don’t know who Ronald Colman is, or what Ruritania is, but you never need to know Chabon’s references to get what he’s saying. That’s one reason he’s so good. Also I liked the part about the Rush concert.

But the best thing about reading that essay was deciding to look up what Chabon’s been up to lately and finding this even better piece on his upcoming novel, where he walks through some of the images that inspired it. “Within days of starting to write Moonglow, I was surprised to learn that my protagonist intended to hunt a giant, pet-eating Burmese python in the wilds of Florida,” he begins. And later, in discussing a photograph of a skull: “A demonic hallucinated man-horse torments the narrator’s grandmother, and the echoes of its phantasmic nickering resound down the years in her family.”

Ghosts. Outsider art. Astronauts. Cake. Pet-eating snakes. Jesus Christ, I cannot wait to read this novel.

1 comment:

  1. Think I ran into your blog by googling "irony bros" ('cause sometimes--often, really--twitter gets so deep in irony and sarcasm that it's just insufferable) but fortunate that the Chapo commentary was only a couple clicks away from this one.

    I, like other media-saturateds, have magazines sitting in neat stacks, still in their original plastic coverings. Not so they can stay in mint condition for the collector who doesn't exist, but because I simultaneously "support the arts" and I try to stay current in my reading and I'm lazy.

    So on the occasion where I busted open a particular GQ with Lebron or someone on the cover and found Michael Chabon's son in "fire" high-top Chucks which sorta looked like Little Rascals-style spats or something on this hip Alfalfa kid, I jumped right in because of the recognizable name and the hook: a son (of privilege--so what, I guess) coming of age by embracing things alien to his father.

    Glad that someone bounced their ideas off it publickly. I'm quick to kick froufrou the curb and say "The rich *are* different: they're fucking clueless assholes." But this kid was so sweet and through no fault of his own was the son of a talented well-off urbanite, and while some prepschool kids show their edge by forming Fugazi or some damn thing, this one immersed himself in fashion in hopes of becoming the new Alexander McQueen or whatever.

    It served to remind me that even the poor need to be inspired and this father/son dynamic mini-memoir might even affect my own interaction with my sons and daughters, who knows. Regardless it didn't affect my admiration of Chabon, and I think anyone who dismisses or disses Michael or Abe should prob logoff Twitter and take a walk.