A gifted nov­el­ist turns to his life as fa­ther


The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By John Greenya John Greenya is a Wash­ing­ton writer and critic.

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.

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