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Manhood for Amateurs

Novelist Michael Chabon surveys the emotional terrain of life as a husband, father, and son.

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Michael Chabon brings the most varied and fabulous scenarios alive through his fiction: a Pulitzer-winning opus on love and war and the Golden Age of comics, a weary detective in an alternate history of a Jewish Alaska, a baseball game-turned- magical adventure. In his latest book, it’s a gift to find that his writing is just as radiant, original, and observant when trained on his own life.

Manhood for Amateurs, a collection of personal essays on “the pleasures and regrets of a husband, father, and son,” is put forward as an autobiography, but it’s more of a strobe light illuminating selected epiphanies throughout Chabon’s life. Familiar themes such as Judaism and comic books play their parts; so, less successfully, do daddy-blog staples such as his acceptance of the need for “a murse – a man purse.” While he does chronicle life’s notable melancholies and joys – circumcising a child, welcoming a nephew, absorbing a divorce – for the most part, he highlights the small but incendiary insights most of us recognize only in hindsight.

A reflection on the value of Chabon’s long-ago MFA program, for instance, becomes a look at how it made him grow from boy to man, and then elevated itself into something more: “We are accustomed to repeating the cliché, and to believing, that ‘our most precious resource is our children,’ ” Chabon wrote. “But we have plenty of children to go around, God knows, and as with Doritos, we can always make more. The true scarcity we face is of practicing adults, of people who know how marginal, how fragile, how finite their lives and their stories and their ambitions really are but who find value in this knowledge, even a sense of strange comfort, because they know their condition is universal, is shared.

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