A gifted novelist turns to his life as father
POPS: FATHERHOOD IN PIECES
Harper Collins, $19.99, 127 pages
Acritic once said that Michael Chabon could write about anything and make it interesting — agreed. Now that Jim Harrison is no longer with us, Mr. Chabon is, far and away, this reviewer’s favorite living American writer of fiction.
Their work is similar in that each wrote novels and short fiction marked by autobiographical details and philosophical asides leavened with humor; but dissimilar in that Mr. Harrison stuck to conventional forms whereas Mr. Chabon likes, and practices, multiple genres, including science fiction, comics and fantasy, and he also experiments with metafiction, which is defined as “fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions,” for example a novel about writing a novel.
Be all that as it may, whatever Mr. Chabon is doing works well for him, as evidenced by his slew of literary prizes, among them: An O. Henry, a Pulitzer, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Pen Faulkner Award (the last three for his 2000 novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”).
But there is nothing noticeably experimental about “Pops,” a straightforward exposition of paternal affection by this father of four, which, to state the obvious, would make an ideal Father’s Day present, even if dad is not a Frequent Reader.
The seed for this little gem of a book was planted when the author spent a week shepherding his 13-yearold son around Paris during the Men’s Fashion Week. Young Abe Chabon, a precocious fashionista, was in his glory, not just meeting designer-heroes but on occasion being asked by reporters for his opinion. To the father, high fashion meant vintage Western shirts and Hermes neckties, but he eventually found himself enjoying his job as “minder.”
The previous year, Mr. Chabon had taken Abe to a Rush concert at Madison Square Garden where the boy “managed to stumble on [the designer] John Varvatos. “Abe had spent the day leading his bemused minder on a pilgrimage through SoHo, from Supreme to Bape to Saint Laurent to Y-3, and now, ears still ringing from the final encore (‘Working Man’), Abe reported in detail to Varvatos, with annotations and commentary, on all the looks he had seen downtown. When he was through, Varvatos had turned to Abe’s minder — a major Rush fan who was, of course, also Abe’s father — and said. ‘Where’d you ‘get’ this kid?’
“‘I really have no idea,’ I said.” The GQ article, which as they say, “went viral,” is the centerpiece of this slim volume; it is joined by half a dozen other essays on the author’s experience as a parent, each one different and each one a delight.
In “The Old Ball Game,” Mr. Chabon, a passionate baseball fan, regrets insisting that his son play out his Little League season despite the boy’s lack of ability and disinterest in the sport. But then one day, just a few weeks later, his daughter joins him on the couch where he’s watching a major league game on television. “‘It was the first time she seemed to understand enough of baseball to know that she didn’t understand; and that of course, is the beginning of wisdom, and of fandom, too … ‘That was fun,’ she said when it was over.’
“‘It was,’ I said, “A lot of fun.’
“I want to watch another game. Is there a game on tomorrow night?’
“I said there was. There would be a whole summer’s worth of games, every summer, for the rest of our lives.”
One summer, when the first of his two daughters was nine and her brother seven, Mr. Chabon read them “Tom Sawyer,” which he says was “… exciting and funny and often surprisingly tender. Even capital R Romantic …” That description also neatly fits this little book.
Mr. Chabon opens “Pops” with “Introduction: The Opposite of Writing” in which he tells of the unsolicited advice given him years ago by a wellknown novelist whom he calls only “The great man.” It’s just before the publication of “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” his very successful first novel.
The great man’s advice was — not to have children. You can write great books … or you can have kids.” Because children were “notorious thieves of time,” each child represented an unwritten great book.
As we have already seen, Michael Chabon went on to do both, have children and write great books. Given that he is now 55 years old, we will probably see even more great books, though probably no more children. But then Charles Dickens and his wife had 10 children.