While travelling, I can endure nearly anything in my reading. Michael Chabon does not make this grade. Wonder Boys, as a film, is distracting, entertaining at moments, while the book is the drivel of a writer – the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author?!? – who does nothing but show off. His painful example of this is in his description of Sara Gaskell, who apparently likes to read: When (her books) ran out, she would reach for insurance brochures, hotel prospectuses and product warranties, advertising circulars, sheet of coupons.
In other words, Chabon avoids developing thoughts and instead wants to demonstrate what a clever little fellow he can be.
In my youth, I had an odd habit of reading books based upon films – Rollerball, Earthquake – perhaps to relive the cinematic experience.
It’s why I started Wonder Boys, and yet Chabon fails even with these low expectations.
Everyone had gathered in an old bank vault, not the vault, but an old bank with a vaulted ceiling. The safest place was in the board room but that was full and no one would open the door. I stayed along the wall and looked up at the plaster ceiling, the finery of 19th century workmanship dangling in delicate, broken segment high above. I moved corner to corner, past the huddles of people I did not know and who did not want to know me, and finally down a hallway that led to a narrow staircase and a wooden basement. I knew that it was a bad dream and I had to go down.The first door came eerily open and I was afraid. I shut it and jumped away, continuing to the next where I found more cold and dark and decided I must go back to the first and face my fears. There was nothing there. It was empty with a dirt floor room wand a draft. I didn’t question why it was under the bank. It was just there, like the witches and killers and crypts beneath my childhood home. The first rumbling was clear, like an airliner coming in too low. The next was less so. And that was it. The vaulted bank room was empty by the time I returned.
I recently used a long flight to catch up on my bad movie viewing and so settled back to daydream through the summer blockbuster San Andreas. I admit to having been initially interested in the movie, having been, as a child, very keen on the 1975 film Earthquake, complete with Surround Sound. And while there were certain similarities between San Andreas and Earthquake – and every other disaster movie ever made, with its vapid focus on collapsing things, screaming people and heroes impossibly triumphing through it all – this film is almost solely derived from images of our mass-media natural disaster consciousness, The 911 Attacks in New York and Thailand’s 2004 Tsunami most of all. These traumatically ingrained images have been transformed into moments of cartoonish fun, which years ago would have been blasphemous and now are just a vehicle to profits. Kind of like the manner in which we cope with global warming – something to spin and from which to derive short-term profit.
My obsession with disasters started at a young age when I blew up model airplanes and cars. It was never as satisfying as I expected and always ended with a mess to clean up. The films were better: The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno and Earthquake, which had Sensurround Sound; I went to that twice. I have lost interest in these films for the most part – Twister, Armageddon, 2012 lack the original flare – but remain fascinated by massive destruction. I gap and ogle. I exchange messages and express my concern; it happens every time, Oklahoma, New Orleans and Japan. When Hurricane Sandy came to New York, I walked the dog to see the storm’s surge in Lower Manhattan. I must admit to a habit of walking away from a place – anywhere, a subway train or building – and then looking back, thinking it might explode, be engulfed in smoke and flame. It hasn’t happened yet, but I keep half expecting it. Is this a side effect to my disaster addiction? What is this dreadful fascination? Do I have a sense of doom, an obsession with the impending end? Or is it just boredom in the modern world?