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Michael Chabon: Manhood For Amateurs

Michael Chabon

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son


October 6, 2009

Perhaps it was a mistake to approach Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son as an autobiography.  I have a passion for memoirs and autobiographies, and I was excited to read one by an author whose fiction I admire and enjoy.  But in Manhood for Amateurs, Chabon does not depict himself as intimately as he does his characters, instead crafting a world of broad nostalgia, lamenting the death of imagination and the freedom of childhood. 

This problem of personal depth largely stems from the structure of the work.  It is presented in essay format, grouped nicely into ten sections with thematic commonalities.  None of the pieces are more than ten pages, indicative of the fact that all but one of the 39 essays were previously published in various magazines and newspapers.  This type of work does not easily lend itself to introspection. 

But while Manhood for Amateurs sometimes reads like an alternative parenting guide, with essays covering the “drug talk” and the “sex talk,” it also has plenty of insights into what it means to be part of a family.  Chabon’s view of fatherhood is summed up in the opening essay, “The Loser’s Club” – “A father is a man who fails every day.”  I think that is a perfect philosophy for anyone who wants to be a great Dad.  Many of the essays highlight Chabon’s close relationship with his four children, but I would rather hear more about the absent father whose affection is likened to a “tentative abruptness, like someone used to automatic transmission learning how to drive a stick shift.” 

My favorite essay is “The Story of Our Story,” which expertly weaves three episodes of Chabon’s life into an ode to brotherhood.  While recalling the births of his son and his nephew along with two nestled childhood incidents of getting lost, Chabon gets to the heart of what it means to have a brother, saying that the day of his brother’s birth was when his “story truly began.  Until my brother was born, I had no one to tell it to.”  Framing that discovery with the gladness that both his two sons and his brother’s two sons would get to experience that same special bond was really touching, and I called my brother soon after reading that piece. 

So while Manhood for Amateurs does not bloodily filet the personal pain of a man’s life, it gracefully touches on the successes and failures that come with being a man.  There are some good references to Chabon’s fiction writing, some funny passages about being a geeky loner, and a heartfelt longing for a time when “The Wilderness of Childhood” was alive and well.  Chabon might not give us a lens into his soul, but he gives us a long look at the habits and practices of a man who loves his family.

2.5 / 4 Stars

Recommended for: Fans of Chabon, New Fathers

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