Chabon, Michael

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CHABON, MICHAEL (1963– ), U.S. novelist. Chabon was born in Washington d.c., but moved at six to Columbia, Maryland, a city more of the imagination than of reality, as only a tiny part of the city had actually been built. The young Chabon placed a prospective plan of the city on his wall alongside a map of Walt Disney World, and these simultaneously imaginary and real worlds, along with such favorite childhood fantasy tales as The Hobbit, the Oz books, various books of mythology, and superhero comics, proved to be among his earliest influences. Chabon graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and received his master's in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine. His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), is the coming-of-age story of Art Bechstein, a homosexual Jewish college graduate coping with his gangster father. Chabon's A Model World, and Other Stories (1991) is a collection of stories dealing with unrequited love and adolescent angst. After abandoning Fountain City, his 1,500-page unpublished second novel, Chabon quickly wrote the highly regarded Wonder Boys (1995), the story of a disastrous weekend in the life of Grady Tripp, a burned-out, middle-aged writer who cannot finish his 2,600-page second novel. Next came Werewolves in their Youth (1999), which included nine tales set in the Pacific Northwest; many focused on troubled family relationships.

Chabon gained sterling reviews and wide popular attention for his third novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000). With this wide-ranging work, Chabon broadened his canvas and demonstrated an expansive, lyrical, anti-minimalist style. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a sweeping tale of the 1930s and 1940s that follows the lives of two Jewish cousins, the American Sammy Clay (né Klayman) and the Czech Josef Kavalier, who has escaped the Nazis with the help of an elderly magician and the legendary golem of Prague. As teens, Kavalier and Clay create a new comic book hero, The Escapist, a Houdini-like superhero who uses his amazing escapist ability to battle the Nazis. Chabon moves his readers from Prague to New York to Antarctica, bringing together in one giant Jewish American quilt such diverse elements as pulp adventure stories, vaudeville, the Jewish origins of American comic books, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, the golem, and the Holocaust. The novel combines a literary and a pulp sensibility, realist and surrealist elements, and such disparate influences as comic books, Jewish folklore, magical realism, and the works of such authors as Jorge Luis Borges, Herman Melville, Vladimir Nabokov, and John Cheever. Chabon thus brings a fresh stylistic approach to bear on his tale of Jews striving to escape the horrors and limitations of the 1940s. Chabon's next work was Summerland (2002), an original fantasy for American children loosely based on American folklore. Chabon then published The Final Solution (2004), a novel about a British Sherlock Holmes-like retired investigator who gets involved in the case of Linus Steinman, a mute Jewish orphan escapee from Nazi Germany, and his parrot Bruno, who recites strings of mysterious German numbers. Given his more recent work, Chabon showed himself to be one of the most interesting of the new generation of Jewish American novelists.

[Craig Svonkin (2nd ed.)]