McSweeney’s Turns Michael Chabon’s Worst Writing Into a Collector’s Item

michael chabon McSweeneys Turns Michael Chabons Worst Writing Into a Collectors ItemThe latest issue of McSweeney’s just arrived in the homes of its kitschy-urbane subscribers and they are in for a treat: Issue 36 is four-chapter, annotated excerpt of a supposedly disastrous Michael Chabon novel attempt called Fountain City. Written immediately after Chabon’s first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburg, was published in 1989, Chabon recently took to annotating the wreckage. The annotated Fountain City comes in an box that is a head that opens up like Zeus giving birth to Athena.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Chabon is forthcoming about the endeavour’s solipsistic overtones, saying it would “offer the opportunity to recover, not the novel [...] but traces and fragments of the life I had led while writing it.” He also thought it it might be useful “for millions of other failure enthusiasts and fans of ruination all around the world.”

In the Fountain City preface and annotations within Chabon writes about the two personal topics that seem to dominate press about him: his wife Ayelet Waldman and his sexuality. Waldman, also a writer, published an unpopular Times “Modern Love” column (Is that forum designed to make women look bad?) about their eros. In the preface to the McSweeney’s publication, Chabon recounts what he’s learned about writing. Lesson 5 is “Marry a strong, talented, vocal, articulate and above all persuasive reader.”

After being mistakenly classified as a ‘gay writer’ early in his career, Chabon wrote an autobiographical essay for the New York Review of Books that cleared the air: “I had slept with one man whom I loved, and learned to love another man so much that it would never have occurred to me to want to sleep with him.” Chabon told The Atlantic it wasn’t enough.

A good chunk of the footnotes (which make up half the volume) are given over to a consideration of your own sexuality. What prompted you to address the matter at such length here? Was it something about which you’d received questions but never had the forum/opportunity to address?

Yes. That’s it. I have dealt with the subject since then, in an afterword I wrote for a reprint of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and a bit elsewhere. But at the time I was annotating Fountain City, it was something I had been asked about a number of times without ever giving what felt like a satisfactory answer. And, you know, there was Roy, and Foster, these gay characters, and yet another account of a close bond between and gay man and a straight man…

Just what the fan-boys ordered. Those of us who like Chabon’s books but were taught that the author is dead can rest assured that just because Chabon is dabbling in autobiographical meta-narrative doesn’t mean America has lost its foremost Jewish-Genre Maximalist:

The extensive footnotes make up a meta-narrative that is, if you don’t mind my saying so, more interesting than the novel (at least the selection you’ve given us). Had you been playing around with that kind of a self-commenting work? (A stretch, probably, but you do open the introduction with reference to a book called What is Post-Modernism?)

I don’t mind at all; indeed you endorse my own opinion–the fact that the novel isn’t very interesting probably explains the whole debacle right there. Let’s just forget the whole enterprise! Mystery solved! I’d like to put on the post-modern cape and fly around the room a little bit going ta-da! but honestly the notes are there to serve as the literary equivalent of the label on a packet of silica gel that says DO NOT EAT.

kstoeffel@observer.com :: @kstoeffel