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Able to leap over literary barriers in a single book

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As he gleefully points out, his desire is nothing less than annihilation of literary categories - a we-are-the-word gumbo where, say, Neal Stephenson and Robert Louis Stevenson are separated by a couple of letters rather than entire sections.

His new novella is a fine display of such vision, pairing a delightful procedural with a haunting meditation on mortality. Chabon sacrifices neither pure entertainment nor literary achievement in the process.

"When the story came in last year, there was a long pause about that," says Brigid Hughes, executive editor of The Paris Review, which originally published "The Final Solution" in its summer 2003 issue. "He brought this whole idea of interest in the genre and genre-writing, which had traditionally been isolated from literary writing. It was brilliant."

In fact, his introduction in the latest McSweeney's volume fixates on the word genre. But, just as one fears a bout with literary pretension, Chabon's wit rescues him: "Like most people who worry about whether it's better to be wrong or pretentious when pronouncing the word genre, I'm always on the lookout for a chance to drop the name of Walter Benjamin."

During a recent speech at the Novello Festival in North Carolina, Chabon appears in writerly garb: rimless glasses, forelocks reminiscent of Superman's squiggles, rumpled pants topped with a checked sport coat. He moves from Kabbalah to Captain Nemo and tosses in the occasional self-deprecating reference to his literary credentials. The Pulitzer Prize, Chabon says, "gives a guy, however mistaken, a sense of authority."

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