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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay  
First edition cover
Author Michael Chabon
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Historical Fiction
Publisher Random House
Publication date September 19, 2000
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 639 pp
ISBN 0679450041
OCLC Number 234094822
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 21
LC Classification PS3553.H15 A82 2000

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a 2000 novel by American author Michael Chabon that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. The novel follows the lives of the title characters, a Czech artist named Joe Kavalier and a Brooklyn-born writer named Sam Clay—both Jewish—before, during, and after World War II. Kavalier and Clay become major figures in the nascent comics industry during its "Golden Age." Kavalier & Clay was published to "nearly unanimous praise" and became a New York Times Best Seller,[1] receiving nominations for the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 2006, Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation",[2] and in 2007, The New York Review of Books called the novel Chabon's magnum opus.[3]

The novel's publication was followed by several companion projects, including two short stories published by Chabon that consist of material apparently written for the novel but not included: "The Return of the Amazing Cavalieri" in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern (2001), and "Breakfast in the Wreck" in The Virginia Quarterly Review (2004). In 2004, a semi-epilogue to the novel was published separately under the title "A Postscript", in Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950. From 2004 to 2006, Dark Horse Comics published two series of Escapist comic books based on the superhero stories described in the novel, some of which were written by Chabon.

A film adaptation, to be directed by Stephen Daldry and produced by Scott Rudin, began pre-production in 2001. In the following years, the film was repeatedly canceled and reinitiated, and as of April 2007 the project has stalled.


Plot summary

The novel begins in 1939 with the arrival of Josef Kavalier as a refugee in New York City, where he comes to live with his 17-year-old cousin Sammy Klayman. Besides having a shared interest in drawing, the two are also fans of the Jewish stage magician Harry Houdini, and share several connections to Houdini: Kavalier (like comics legend Jim Steranko) has actually studied escapology, which aided him in his departure from Europe, and Klayman is the son of the Mighty Molecule, a strongman on the vaudeville circuit.

Klayman gets Kavalier a job as an illustrator for a novelty products company which, due to the recent success of Superman, is attempting to get into the comic-book business. Renaming himself Sam Clay, Klayman starts writing adventure stories, and the two recruit several other Brooklyn teenagers to produce Amazing Midget Radio Comics (named to promote one of the company's novelty items). The magazine features their character the Escapist, an anti-fascist superhero who combines traits of (among others) Captain America, Harry Houdini, Batman, the Phantom, and the Scarlet Pimpernel; the Escapist becomes tremendously popular, but, as often happens, the writers and artists get a minimal share of the publisher's success. Kavalier and Clay are slow to realize that they are being exploited, as they have private concerns: Kavalier is trying to help his family escape from Nazi-occupied Prague, and has fallen in love with a bohemian girl with her own artistic aspirations, while Clay is battling with his sexual identity.

Kavalier, driven by grief over the murder of one family member by the Nazis and the internment of the balance of his family, enlists in the navy, unaware that his would-be fiancée is pregnant. He returns from service and an extended self-imposed exile only to find his cousin and former love a married couple; the remainder of the novel follows the three characters' attempts to reconstitute a family, and to find a new creative direction for comics.

Many events in the novel are based on the lives of actual comic-book creators including Jack Kirby (to whom the book is dedicated in the afterword), Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Joe Simon, Will Eisner, and Jim Steranko. Other historical figures play minor roles, including Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, and Fredric Wertham. The novel's time span roughly mirrors that of the Golden Age of Comics itself, starting from shortly after the debut of Superman and concluding with the Kefauver Senate hearings, two events often used to demarcate the era.


An important aspect of the novel is the prominent role of Jewish writers and artists in not only the comic-book field, but fantasy fiction and American pop culture in general. Besides the pragmatic reasons for this (e.g., many Jewish illustrators ended up working in comic books because they were denied work in more "respectable" fields), Chabon suggests that comics and pulp fiction were crucibles for a uniquely American mythology that allowed outcasts and immigrants to dream of heroism, and that an aspect of Jewish tradition happened to fit well with this mythology; the novel's epigraph, from Will Eisner, describes this aspect as "impossible solutions for insoluble problems".

Arguably the most important theme of the novel is that of escapism. The comic book character, The Escapist, created by Kavalier and Clay, symbolises Joe's escape from Prague and Nazi-occupied Europe as well as Sammy's more metaphorical escape from himself - his polio-stricken body and his later-revealed homosexuality. This idea of escape plays a major role in dictating the actions of the two major characters throughout the book. Interestingly, this theme can also be found in other Jewish literary works that are set in this period, including Enemies, a Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer and The Family Markowitz by Allegra Goodman.

A secondary theme is the idea that, in the 1930s, many people wanted a superman who could protect them from an increasingly dangerous world. In Jewish folklore, the Rabbi Maharal of Prague once created a superman, called the Golem, to protect the Jewish ghetto from hostile Christians. Kavalier and Clay create modern-day Golems (protectors) in the form of superheroes, just as in reality, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman as a fictional protector of the weak and innocent. The superheroes of Kavalier and Clay smash Nazi armies, defeat Nazi supervillains and help save the world from the late 1930s through till the end of World War II.

Another theme Chabon works with in the novel is the creators themselves being superheroes in their own way. Chabon hints at this in both contextual and symbolic ways, with many of the book's protagonists sharing similarities with the fictional superheroes. Kavalier, like the Escapist, was an accomplished escape artist and wore a mask while performing. He literally fought his own real life villain, the Saboteur, and later served in the navy during World War II. Sammy also shared a similarity with the Escapist: his disabled leg. Moreover, Sammy's real last name, "Klayman", draws parallels between him and the Golem, another major figure in the novel which is literally a man made out of clay. Joe's first attempt at creating a comic book superhero results in his pitching the Golem. He describes Superman as another type of Golem. Even the characters Tracy Bacon — who plays the Escapist on the radio, bears a physical resemblance to him and later dies a hero's death in World War II — and Rosa Saks — on whom Luna Moth is based — have these literary connections to superheroes. In this way the novel could be seen as Chabon's attempt at aping the superhero genre.


Film adaptation

Producer Scott Rudin, who had worked with Chabon in the early nineties on The Gentlemen Host, a screenplay that as of 2007 remains unfilmed, bought the screen rights to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for Paramount Pictures based on a one-and-a-half page pitch before the novel had been published.[4] (Rudin was involved with the novel so early on that his name appears in the acknowledgements to its first edition.) After the book was published, Rudin hired Chabon to write the screen adaptation. In July 2002, it was reported that the process had taken 16 months and six drafts, none of which pleased the demanding Rudin. "It's like those arcade games where a gopher head pops out", Chabon said at the time. "I fix this and then another head pops out."[4] Rudin explained that his problems with the drafts often derived from scenes in the book he wanted kept in the film and which Chabon, "incredibly unprecious about his work", had cut.[4]

In their 2002 It List, Entertainment Weekly declared Kavalier & Clay the year's "It Script", publishing a short excerpt from the screenplay. Chabon told the publication, "A lot of things about the book are really a pain in the neck [to adapt]....The story takes place over this huge span of time. There's an 11-year gap in the middle when we don't see the characters at all. I wrote the first draft of the screenplay from memory, as if there were no novel at all and I were just remembering a story that I had heard.... Much less time passes in the movie than in the book. It's really just the period of the war."[5] While at that point, the film was in active pre-production (with Sydney Pollack attached to direct and Jude Law in talks to play Kavalier),[5] by late 2004 Chabon had declared the film project "very much dead".[6]

In November of that same year, though, director Stephen Daldry announced in The New York Times that he planned to direct the film "next year."[7] In January 2005, Chabon posted on his web site that, "about a month ago, there was a very brief buzzing, as of a fruit fly, around the film version of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It was a casting-buzz. It went like this: Tobey Maguire as Sam Clay. Jamie Bell as Joe Kavalier. Natalie Portman as Rosa Saks. It buzzed very seriously for about eleven minutes. Then it went away."[8]

In June 2006, Chabon maintained that Portman was still "a strong likelihood for the part of Rosa", and listed a number of important plot points present in the book that would be left out of the movie. The list included the scene between Clay and Tracy Bacon in the ruins of the 1939 World's Fair (though the film will still feature a gay love story), the Long Island scene, and the appearances of Orson Welles and Stan Lee.[9] Chabon added that "whether [this project] will move at last ... into really-truly pre-production, with a budget and cast and everything, will be decided on or around 12 July 2006."[9] In August 2006, however, it was reported that the film had "not been greenlit".[10] In April 2007, Chabon added that the project "just completely went south for studio-politics kinds of reasons that I'm not privy to.... Right now, as far as I know, there's not a lot going on."[11]


  1. ^ "Chabon, Michael: INTRODUCTION". Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 149. Thomson Gale, 2002. 2006. Retrieved on 2007-07-27.
  2. ^ Birnbaum, Robert. "Bret Easton Ellis", The Morning News, 2006-01-19. Retrieved on 2008-10-28.
  3. ^ Leonard, John. “Meshuga Alaska”, The New York Review of Books, 2007-06-14. Retrieved on 2007-07-27.
  4. ^ a b c Gottlieb, Jeff (2002-07-16). "TRIP ALONG WRITE PATH: Author struggles for Hollywood ending". The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.. Retrieved 2007-01-17.  
  5. ^ a b "IT SCRIPT". Entertainment Weekly.. 2002-06-28.,,264473_6,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-14.  
  6. ^ Chabon, Michael. "Chabon: Kavalier Movie Appears "Very Much Dead"". The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay. Retrieved 2007-01-17.  
  7. ^ Hass, Nancy (2004-11-07). "Scott Rudin's Three Ring Holiday Circus". The New York Times.. Retrieved 2007-01-17.  
  8. ^ "Chabon Spills Casting Rumors". The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay. Retrieved 2007-01-17.  
  9. ^ a b "Natalie Portman in Kavalier & Clay?". Retrieved 2007-01-17.  
  10. ^ Voynar, Kim. "Kavalier and Clay Stalls; Snow a No-Go for Chabon". Retrieved 2007-01-18.  
  11. ^ Hodler, Timothy. Michael Chabon Q & A, Details Magazine. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-08-15.

External links

Preceded by
Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Succeeded by
Empire Falls
by Richard Russo

Michael Chabon
Born May 24, 1963 (1963-05-24) (age 47)
Washington, D.C.
Pen name Leon Chaim Bach, Malachi B. Cohen, August Van Zorn
Occupation Novelist, screenwriter, columnist, short-story writer
Nationality American
Period 1987–present
Notable work(s) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007)
Notable award(s) 1999 O. Henry Award
2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
2007 Nebula Award for Best Novel
2008 Hugo Award for Best Novel
2008 Sidewise Award for Alternate History
Spouse(s) Lollie Groth
Ayelet Waldman

Michael Chabon (pronounced /ˈʃeɪbɒn/ SHAY-bon;[4] born May 24, 1963) is an American author and "one of the most celebrated writers of his generation", according to The Virginia Quarterly Review.[5]

Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), was published when he was 25 and catapulted him to literary celebrity. He followed it with a second novel, Wonder Boys (1995), and two short-story collections. In 2000, Chabon published The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a critically acclaimed novel that John Leonard, in a 2007 review of a later novel, called Chabon's magnum opus;[6] it received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 (see: 2001 in literature). His novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, an alternate history mystery novel, was published in 2007 to enthusiastic reviews and won the Hugo, Sidewise, and Nebula awards;[7][8][9] his serialized novel Gentlemen of the Road appeared in book form in the fall of that same year.

His work is characterized by complex language, the frequent use of metaphor[10] along with recurring themes, including nostalgia,[10] divorce, abandonment, fatherhood, and issues of Jewish identity.[6] He often includes gay, bisexual, and Jewish characters in his work.[6][11] Since the late 1990s, Chabon has written in an increasingly diverse series of styles for varied outlets; he is a notable defender of the merits of genre fiction and plot-driven fiction, and, along with novels, he has published screenplays, children's books, comics, and newspaper serials.


Early years

Michael Chabon (pronounced, in his words, "Shea as in Shea Stadium, Bon as in Bon Jovi", i.e., /ˈʃeɪbɒn/) was born in Washington, DC to Robert Chabon, a physician and lawyer, and Sharon Chabon, a lawyer. Chabon said he knew he wanted to be a writer when, at the age of ten, he wrote his first short story for a class assignment. When the story received an A, Chabon recalls, "I thought to myself, 'That's it. That's what I want to do. I can do this.' And I never had any second thoughts or doubts."[12] Referring to popular culture, he wrote of being raised "on a hearty diet of crap".[13] His parents divorced when Chabon was 11, and he grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Columbia, Maryland. Columbia, where Chabon lived nine months of the year with his mother, was "a progressive planned living community in which racial, economic, and religious diversity were actively fostered."[10] He has written of his mother's marijuana use, recalling her "sometime around 1977 or so, sitting in the front seat of her friend Kathy’s car, passing a little metal pipe back and forth before we went in to see a movie."[14]

Chabon attended Carnegie Mellon University for a year before transferring to the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1984.[10] He then went to graduate school at the University of California, Irvine, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

Initial literary success

Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was written as his UC-Irvine master's thesis. Without telling Chabon, his professor, Donald Heiney (better known by his pen name, MacDonald Harris), sent it to a literary agent,[15] who got the author an impressive $155,000 advance on the novel (most first-time novelists receive advances ranging from $5,000 to $7,500.)[16] The Mysteries of Pittsburgh appeared in 1988 and became a bestseller, instantly catapulting Chabon to the status of literary celebrity. Among Chabon's major literary influences in this period were Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Raymond Chandler, John Updike, Philip Roth and F. Scott Fitzgerald[17].As Chabon remarked in 2010, "I just copied the writers whose voices I was responding to, and I think that's probably the best way to learn."[17]

Chabon was ambivalent about his newfound fame. He turned down offers to appear in a Gap ad and to be featured as one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People."[18] (He later said, of the People offer, "I don't give a shit [about it] ... I only take pride in things I've actually done myself. To be praised for something like that is just weird. It just felt like somebody calling and saying, 'We want to put you in a magazine because the weather's so nice where you live' ")[11]

In 2001, Chabon reflected on the success of his first novel by saying that while "the upside was that I was published and I got a readership[, the] downside ... was that, emotionally, this stuff started happening and I was still like, 'Wait a minute, is my thesis done yet?' It took me a few years to catch up."[11] In 1991, Chabon published A Model World, a collection of short stories, many of which had been published previously in The New Yorker.

Fountain City and Wonder Boys

After the success of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon spent five years working on a second novel. Called Fountain City, the novel was a "highly ambitious opus ... about an architect building a perfect baseball park in Florida",[19] and it eventually ballooned to 1,500 pages, with no end in sight.[12] The process was frustrating for Chabon, who, in his words, "never felt like I was conceptually on steady ground."[19]

At one point, Chabon submitted a 672-page draft to his agent and editor, who disliked the work. Chabon had problems dropping the novel, though. "It was really scary", he said later. "I'd already signed a contract and been paid all this money. And then I'd gotten a divorce and half the money was already with my ex-wife. My instincts were telling me, This book is fucked. Just drop it. But I didn't, because I thought, What if I have to give the money back?"[20] "I used to go down to my office and fantasize about all the books I could write instead."

When he finally decided to abandon Fountain City, Chabon recalls staring at his blank computer for hours, before suddenly picturing "a 'straitlaced, troubled young man with a tendency toward melodrama' trying to end it all."[12] He began writing, and within a couple of days, had written 50 pages of what would become his second novel, Wonder Boys. Chabon drew on his experiences with Fountain City for the character of Grady Tripp, a frustrated novelist who has spent years working on an immense fourth novel. The author wrote Wonder Boys in a dizzy seven-month streak, without telling his agent or publisher he'd abandoned Fountain City. The book, published in 1995, was a commercial and critical success.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Among the supporters of Wonder Boys was The Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley; however, despite declaring Chabon "the young star of American letters", Yardley argued that, in his works to that point, Chabon had been preoccupied "with fictional explorations of his own ... It is time for him to move on, to break away from the first person and explore larger worlds."[21] Chabon later said that he took Yardley's criticism to heart, explaining, "It chimed with my own thoughts. I had bigger ambitions."[22] In 1999 he published his second collection of short stories, Werewolves in their Youth, which included his first published foray into genre fiction,[5] the grim horror story "In the Black Mill."

Shortly after completing Wonder Boys, Chabon discovered a box of comic books from his childhood; a reawakened interest in comics, coupled with memories of the "lore" his Brooklyn-born father had told him about "the middle years of the twentieth century in America....the radio shows, politicians, movies, music, and athletes, and so forth, of that era," inspired him to begin work on a new novel.[23] In 2000, he published The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, an epic historical novel that charts 16 years in the lives of Sammy Clay and Joe Kavalier, two Jewish cousins who create a wildly popular series of comic books in the early 1940s, the years leading up to the entry of the U.S. into World War II. The novel received "nearly unanimous praise" and became a New York Times Best Seller,[10] eventually winning the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Chabon reflected that, in writing Kavalier & Clay, "I discovered strengths I had hoped that I possessed — the ability to pull off multiple points of view, historical settings, the passage of years — but which had never been tested before."[24]

Recent work

In 2002, Chabon published Summerland, a fantasy novel written for younger readers that received mixed reviews but sold extremely well,[25] and won the 2003 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Two years later, he published The Final Solution, a novella about an investigation led by an unknown old man, whom the reader can guess to be Sherlock Holmes, during the final years of World War II. His Dark Horse Comics project The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, a quarterly anthology series that was published from 2004 to 2006, purported to cull stories from an involved, fictitious 60-year history of the Escapist character created by the protagonists of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It was awarded the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Anthology and a pair of Harvey Awards for Best Anthology and Best New Series.

In late 2006, Chabon completed work on Gentlemen of the Road, a 15-part serialized novel that ran in The New York Times Magazine from January 28 to May 6, 2007. The serial (which at one point had the working title "Jews with Swords") was described by Chabon as "a swashbuckling adventure story set around the year 1000."[26] Just before Gentlemen of the Road completed its run, the author published his latest novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which he had worked on since February 2002. A hard-boiled detective story that imagines an alternate history in which Israel collapsed in 1948 and European Jews settled in Alaska, the novel was launched on May 1, 2007 to enthusiastic reviews,[27] and spent six weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.[28] The novel also won the 2008 Hugo Award.

In May 2007, Chabon said that he was working on a young-adult novel with "some fantastic content".[29] A month later, the author said he had put plans for the young-adult book on hold,[30] and instead had signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins.

The first a book-length work of non-fiction called Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son published in spring 2009 (2010 in Europe); the work discusses "being a man in all its complexity — a son, a father, a husband."[31] The collection was nominated for a 2010 Northern California Book Award in the Creative Nonfiction category.[32] This was Chabon's second published collection of essays and non-fiction. McSweeney's published Maps and Legends, a collection of Chabon's literary essays, on May 1, 2008.[33] Proceeds from the book benefited 826 National.[34]

Chabon's second book under the contract, with a tentative publication date of 2011, will be a contemporary adult novel set in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. During a 2007 interview with the Washington Post, Chabon was quoted as saying, "I would like it to be set in the present day and feel right now the urge to do something more mainstream than my recent work has been." During a Q&A session in January 2009, Chabon added that he was writing a "naturalistic" novel about two families in Berkeley.[35] In a March 2010 interview with the Guardian newspaper, Chabon confirmed that the novel-in-progress was still very much naturalistic and that "So far there's no overtly genre content: it's set in the present day and has no alternate reality or anything like that."[17]

Despite his success, Chabon continues to perceive himself as a "failure", noting that "anyone who has ever received a bad review knows how it outlasts, by decades, the memory of a favorable word."[36]

In June 2010 he wrote an editorial for the New York Times in which he noted the role of exceptionalism in Jewish identity, in relation to the "blockheadedness" of Israel's botched Gaza flotilla raid and the explanations that followed.[37]

Personal life

In 1987, Chabon married the poet Lollie Groth. After the publication of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, he was mistakenly featured in a Newsweek article on up-and-coming gay writers (Pittsburgh's protagonist has liaisons with people of both sexes.) The New York Times later reported that "in some ways, [Chabon] was happy" for the magazine's error, and quoted him as saying, "I feel very lucky about all of that. It really opened up a new readership to me, and a very loyal one."[18] In a 2002 interview, Chabon added, "if Mysteries of Pittsburgh is about anything in terms of human sexuality and identity, it's that people can't be put into categories all that easily."[38] In "On The Mysteries of Pittsburgh", an essay he wrote for the New York Review of Books in 2005, Chabon remarked on the autobiographical events that helped inspire his first novel: "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."[39]

According to Chabon, the popularity of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh had adverse effects; he later explained, "I was married at the time to someone else who was also a struggling writer, and the success created a gross imbalance in our careers, which was problematic."[11] He and Groth divorced in 1991, and he married the writer Ayelet Waldman in 1993. They currently live together in Berkeley, California with their four children,[40] Sophie (b. 1994), Ezekiel "Zeke" Napoleon Waldman (b. 1997), Ida-Rose (b. June 1, 2001), and Abraham Wolf Waldman (b. March 31, 2003). Chabon has said that the "creative freeflow" he has with Waldman inspired the relationship between Sammy Clay and Rosa Saks towards the end of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,[23] and in 2007, Entertainment Weekly declared the couple "a famous — and famously in love — writing pair, like Nick and Nora Charles with word processors and not so much booze."[29]

In 2000, Chabon told The New York Times that he kept a strict schedule, writing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, Sunday through Thursday.[18] He tries to write 1,000 words a day. Commenting on the rigidity of his routine, Chabon said, "There have been plenty of self-destructive rebel-angel novelists over the years, but writing is about getting your work done and getting your work done every day. If you want to write novels, they take a long time, and they're big, and they have a lot of words in them.... The best environment, at least for me, is a very stable, structured kind of life."[11]

Interest in genre fiction

In a 2002 essay, Chabon decried the state of modern short fiction (including his own), saying that, with rare exceptions, it consisted solely of "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story."[41] In an apparent reaction against these "plotless [stories] sparkling with epiphanic dew", Chabon's post-2000 work has been marked by an increased interest in genre fiction and plot. While The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was, like The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys, an essentially realistic, contemporary novel (whose plot happened to revolve around comic-book superheroes), Chabon's subsequent works — such as The Final Solution, his dabbling with comic-book writing, and the "swashbuckling adventure" of Gentlemen of the Road — have been almost exclusively devoted to mixing aspects of genre and literary fiction. Perhaps the most notable example of this is The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which won five genre awards, including the Hugo award and Nebula award.[15] Chabon seeks to "annihilate" not the genres themselves, but the bias against certain genres of fiction such as fantasy, science fiction and romance.[15]

Chabon's forays into genre fiction have met with mixed critical reaction. One science fiction short story by Chabon, "The Martian Agent," was described by a reviewer as "enough to send readers back into the cold but reliable arms of The New Yorker."[42] Another critic wrote of the same story that it was "richly plotted, action-packed," and that "Chabon skilfully elaborates his world and draws not just on the steampunk worlds of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Michael Moorcock, but on alternate histories by brilliant SF mavericks such as Avram Davidson and Howard Waldrop. The imperial politics are craftily resonant and the story keeps us hanging on."[43] While The Village Voice called The Final Solution "an ingenious, fully imagined work, an expert piece of literary ventriloquism, and a mash note to the beloved boys' tales of Chabon's youth",[44] The Boston Globe wrote, "[T]he genre of the comic book is an anemic vein for novelists to mine, lest they squander their brilliance,"[45] and The New York Times added that the detective story, "a genre that is by its nature so constrained, so untransgressive, seems unlikely to appeal to the real writer."[42]

In 2005, Chabon argued against the idea that genre fiction and entertaining fiction should not appeal to "the real writer", saying that the common perception is that "Entertainment ... means junk.... [But] maybe the reason for the junkiness of so much of what pretends to entertain us is that we have accepted — indeed, we have helped to articulate — such a narrow, debased concept of entertainment.... I'd like to believe that, because I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period."[46]

One of the more positive responses to Chabon's brand of "trickster literature" appeared in Time magazine, whose Lev Grossman wrote that "This is literature in mid-transformation .... the highbrow and the lowbrow, once kept chastely separate, are now hooking up, [and] you can almost see the future of literature coming."[47] Grossman classed Chabon with a movement of authors similarly eager to blend literary and popular writing, including Jonathan Lethem (with whom Chabon is friends),[5] Margaret Atwood, and Susanna Clarke.

On the other hand, in Slate in 2007, Ruth Franklin said, "Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it."[48]

The Van Zorn persona

For some of his own genre work, Chabon has forged an unusual horror/fantasy fiction persona under the name of August Van Zorn. More elaborately developed than a pseudonym, August Van Zorn is purported to be a pen name for one Albert Vetch (1899–1963).[49] In Chabon's 1995 novel Wonder Boys, narrator Grady Tripp writes that he grew up in the same hotel as Vetch, who worked as an English professor at the (nonexistent) Coxley College and wrote hundreds of pulp stories that were "in the gothic mode, after the manner of Lovecraft ... but written in a dry, ironic, at times almost whimsical idiom."[49] A horror-themed short story titled "In the Black Mill" was published in Playboy in June 1997 and reprinted in Chabon's 1999 story collection Werewolves in Their Youth, and was attributed to Van Zorn.[50]

Chabon has created a comprehensive bibliography[51] for Van Zorn, along with an equally fictional literary scholar devoted to his oeuvre named Leon Chaim Bach.[52] Bach's now-defunct website[53] (which existed under the auspices of Chabon's) declared Van Zorn to be, "without question, the greatest unknown horror writer of the twentieth century," and mentioned that Bach had once edited a collection of short stories by Van Zorn titled The Abominations of Plunkettsburg.[54] (The name "Leon Chaim Bach" is an anagram of "Michael Chabon," as is "Malachi B. Cohen," the name of a fictional comics expert who wrote occasional essays about the Escapist for the character's Dark Horse Comic series.) In 2004, Chabon established the August Van Zorn Prize, "awarded to the short story that most faithfully and disturbingly embodies the tradition of the weird short story as practiced by Edgar Allan Poe and his literary descendants, among them August Van Zorn."[5] The first recipient of the prize was Jason Roberts, whose winning story, "7C", was then included in McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Chabon.[52]

A scene in the film adaptation of Chabon's novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh shows two characters in a bookstore stocking August Van Zorn books.

The Chabon universe

Chabon has provided several subtle hints throughout his work that the stories he tells take place in a shared fictional universe. One recurring character, who is mentioned in three of Chabon's books but never actually appears, is Eli Drinkwater, a fictional catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who died abruptly after crashing his car on Mt. Nebo Road.[55] The most detailed exposition of Drinkwater's life appears in Chabon's 1990 short story "Smoke," which is set at Drinkwater's funeral, and refers to him as "a scholarly catcher, a redoubtable batsman, and a kind, affectionate person."[55] Drinkwater was again referred to (though not by name) in Chabon's 1995 novel Wonder Boys, in which narrator Grady Tripp explains that his sportswriter friend Happy Blackmore was hired "to ghost the autobiography of a catcher, a rising star who played for Pittsburgh and hit the sort of home runs that linger in the memory for years."[56] Tripp explains that Blackmore turned in an inadequate draft, his book contract was cancelled, and the catcher died shortly afterwards, "leaving nothing in Happy's notorious 'files' but the fragments and scribblings of a ghost."[56] In Chabon's children's book Summerland (2002), it is suggested that Blackmore was eventually able to find a publisher for the biography; the character Jennifer T. mentions that she has read a book called Eli Drinkwater: A Life in Baseball, written by Happy Blackmore.[57] Drinkwater's name may have been selected in homage to contemporary author John Crowley, whom Chabon is on the record as admiring. Crowley's novel Little, Big featured a main character named Alice Drinkwater.

There are also instances in which character surnames reappear from story to story. Cleveland Arning, a character in Chabon's 1988 debut novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, is described as having come from a wealthy family,[58] one that might be expected to be able to endow a building. Near the end of Wonder Boys (1995), it is mentioned that, on the unnamed college campus at which Grady Tripp teaches, there is a building called Arning Hall "where the English faculty kept office hours."[59] Similarly, in Chabon’s 1989 short story "A Model World," a character named Levine discovers, or rather plagiarizes, a formula for "nephokinesis" (or cloud control) that wins him respect and prominence in the meteorological field.[60] In The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), a passing reference is made to the "massive Levine School of Applied Meteorology," ostensibly a building owned by New York University.[61]

Experiences with Hollywood

Although Michael Chabon has described his attitude toward Hollywood as "pre-emptive cynicism,"[16] for years the author has nevertheless engaged in sustained, and often fruitless, efforts to bring both adapted and original projects to the screen. In 1994, Chabon pitched a screenplay entitled The Gentleman Host to producer Scott Rudin, a romantic comedy "about old Jewish folks on a third-rate cruise ship out of Miami".[20] Rudin bought the project and developed it with Chabon, but it was never filmed, partly due to the release of the similarly themed film Out to Sea in 1997. In the nineties, Chabon also pitched story ideas for both the X-Men[62] and the Fantastic Four[63] movies, but was rejected.

When Scott Rudin was adapting Wonder Boys for the screen, the author declined an offer to write the screenplay, saying he was too busy writing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.[16] Directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys was released in 2000 to critical acclaim and financial failure.[64] Having bought the film rights to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Rudin then asked Chabon to work on that film's screenplay. Although Chabon spent 16 months in 2001 and 2002 working on the novel's film adaptation, the project has been mired in pre-production for years.

Chabon's work, however, remains popular in Hollywood, with Rudin purchasing the film rights to The Yiddish Policemen's Union in 2002, five years before the book would be published. The same year, Miramax bought the rights to Summerland and Tales of Mystery and Imagination (a planned collection of eight genre short stories that Chabon has not yet written), each of which was optioned for a sum in the mid-six figures.[65] Chabon also wrote a draft for 2004's Spider-Man 2, about a third of which was used in the final film. Soon after Spider-Man 2 was released, director Sam Raimi mentioned that he hoped to hire Chabon to work on the film's sequel, "if I can get him,"[66] but Chabon never worked on Spider-Man 3.

In October 2004, it was announced that Chabon was at work writing Disney's Snow and the Seven, a live-action martial arts retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to be directed by master Hong Kong fight choreographer and director Yuen Wo Ping.[67] In August 2006, Chabon said that he had been replaced on Snow, sarcastically explaining that the producers wanted to go in "more of a fun direction."[68]

Although Chabon is uninvolved with the project, director Rawson Marshall Thurber shot a film adaptation of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh in fall 2006.[69] The film, which stars Sienna Miller and Peter Sarsgaard, was released in April 2008. In February 2008, Scott Rudin reported that a film adaptation of The Yiddish Policemen's Union was in pre-production, to be written and directed by the Coen brothers.[70][71]

In April 2009, Chabon confirmed he had been hired to do revisions to the script for Disney's John Carter of Mars.[72]



Young-adult fiction

Short story collections

Essay collections

As contributor or editor


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Chabon, Michael (July 2006). "It Changed My Life". Archived from the original on July 20, 2006. Retrieved November 7, 2007. 
  4. ^ Cohen, Patricia (April 29, 2007). "The Frozen Chosen". The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d Henderson, Eleanor (2007). "From Pittsburgh to Sitka: On Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union". The Virginia Quarterly Review (Summer 2007): 248–257. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c Leonard, John (June 14, 2007). "Meshuga Alaska" (First paragraph only free online). The New York Review of Books 54 (10). Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  7. ^ "2008 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. World Science Fiction Society. c. 2009. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Winners and Finalists". Sidewise Awards for Alternate History. Uchronia. Undated. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  9. ^ "2008 Nebula Awards". The Nebula Awards. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Undated. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Chabon, Michael – Introduction". Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 149. Gale Cengage, 2002. 2006. Retrieved on July 3, 2009.
  11. ^ a b c d e Binelli, Mark (September 27, 2001). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "The Amazing Story of the Comic-Book Nerd who Won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction"]. Rolling Stone (878): 58–62, 78. 
  12. ^ a b c Cahill, Bryon (April 1, 2005). "Michael Chabon: a writer with many faces. "... at the beginning of the summer I had lunch with my father, the gangster, who was in town for the weekend to transact some of his vague business."" (Online archive of original publication: Cahill, Bryon. "Michael Chabon: a writer with many faces". Writing 27 (6): 16–19. Weekly Reader Corp.). The Free Library. Farlex Inc.. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  13. ^ Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son, by Michael Chabon, Fourth Estate, 2009. p. 76.
  14. ^ Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son, by Michael Chabon, Fourth Estate, 2009, p. 32.
  15. ^ a b c Spanberg, Erik (November 30, 2004). "Able to leap over literary barriers in a single book: Chabon ranges from Kabbalah to Captain Nemo". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
  16. ^ a b c Gottlieb, Jeff (June 30, 2002). "Adventures in Rewriting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  17. ^ a b c Tayler, Christopher (March 27, 2010). "Michael Chabon: 'I hadn't read a lot by men of my generation and background about being a father – it felt like I was on relatively untrodden ground'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  18. ^ a b c Buzbee, Lewis (September 24, 2000). "Michael Chabon: Comics Came First" (Google cache page). The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  19. ^ a b Tobias, Scott (November 22, 2000). "An Interview with Michael Chabon" (Archived at McSweeney's Internet Tendency— The Onion. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  20. ^ a b Giles, Jeff (April 10, 1995). "He's a Real Boy Wonder". Newsweek: p. 76. 
  21. ^ Yardley, Jonathan (March 19, 1995). "The Paper Chase". The Washington Post Book World (The Washington Post): p. 3. 
  22. ^ Weich, Dave (2000). "Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures". Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  23. ^ a b Buchwald, Laura (2000). "A Conversation with Michael Chabon". Bold Type. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  24. ^ "Interview with Michael Chabon". Fall/Winter 2000 (Vol. 1, Issue 1). Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  25. ^ Timberg, Scott (May 1, 2007). "The idea hit him right in the kishkes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  26. ^ Lengel, Kerry (October 4, 2006). "Author mines Jewish history". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  27. ^ "The Yiddish Policemen's Union". Metacritic. CBS Interactive, Inc.. c. 2009. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  28. ^ "Hardcover Fiction". The New York Times. July 1, 2007. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  29. ^ a b Kirschling, Gregory (May 4, 2007). "The New Adventures of Michael Chabon". (Entertainment Weekly).,,20037742,00.html. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  30. ^ Raymond, Nate (June 5, 2007). "More Details on Non-fiction Book". The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  31. ^ Thornton, Matthew (June 1, 2007). "Chabon Signs Again with HC". PW Daily. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved July 2, 2009. [dead link]
  32. ^ "2010 Northern California Book Award nominees". The San Francisco Chronicle. March 7, 2010. 
  33. ^ "Maps and Legends (Hardcover)" (Product listing). c. 2009. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  34. ^ "Michael Chabon's new book benefits 826 National!". 826 National. May 20, 2008. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  35. ^ Raymond, Nate (Undated). "Current Projects: Untitled Bay Area Novel". The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay. Retrieved September 2, 2009. 
  36. ^ Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son, by Michael Chabon, Fourth Estate, 2009. p. 7
  37. ^ Chabon, Michael (June 5, 2010). "Chosen, but Not Special". The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2010. 
  38. ^ Bugg, Sean (March 14, 2002). "Blurring the Lines: Interview with Michael Chabon". Metro Weekly. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  39. ^ Chabon, Michael (June 9, 2005). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "On 'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh'"]. The New York Review of Books 52 (10): 43. 
  40. ^ Ybarra, Michael J. (October 5, 2003). "Taking on the law". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  41. ^ Chabon, Michael (2002). "The Editor’s Notebook: A Confidential Chat with the Editor". In Chabon, Michael. McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. New York: Vintage. p. 6. ISBN 1-4000-3339-X. 
  42. ^ a b Friedell, Deborah (November 14, 2004). "'The Final Solution': Bird of the Baskervilles" (book review). The New York Times. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  43. ^ Quinn, Paul (October 19, 2003). "On the trail of a genre high" (book review, reprint hosted at The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  44. ^ Conn, Andrew Lewis (November 9, 2004). "What Up, Holmes? Michael Chabon and the world's most famous detective" (book review). The Village Voice.,conn,58257,10.html. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  45. ^ Jensen, Kurt (December 26, 2004). "Chabon's wartime 'Solution' is murder most bland" (book review). The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  46. ^ Chabon, Michael. "Introduction." The Best American Short Stories 2005. Ed. Michael Chabon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
  47. ^ Grossman, Lev (December 17, 2004). "Pop Goes the Literature". Time.,9171,1009722,00.html. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  48. ^ Franklin, Ruth (May 8, 2007). "God's Frozen People: Michael Chabon carves out a Jewish state in Alaska". Slate. Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive Co.. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  49. ^ a b Chabon (1995). p. 3.
  50. ^ Gorra, Michael (January 31, 1999). "Endangered Species". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  51. ^ Chabon, Michael. "Works of August Van Zorn". at the Internet Archive. Archived from the original on April 4, 2003. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  52. ^ a b "The August Van Zorn Prize for the Weird Short Story". McSweeney's Internet Tendency. McSweeney's. Undated. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  53. ^ Chabon, Michael. "Van Zorn website". at the Internet Archive. Archived from the original on April 2, 2003. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  54. ^ Chabon, Michael. "About Abominations". Archived from the original on February 5, 2003. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  55. ^ a b Chabon (1991). pp. 91–103.
  56. ^ a b Chabon (1995), p. 296.
  57. ^ Chabon, Michael (2002). Summerland. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-1615-5.  p. 397.
  58. ^ Chabon, Michael (1988). The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. New York: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-07632-7.  p. 114.
  59. ^ Chabon (1995). p. 325.
  60. ^ Chabon (1991). p. 72-73.
  61. ^ Chabon, Michael (2000). The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. New York: Picador USA. ISBN 0-312-28299-0.  p. 228.
  62. ^ Chabon, Michael (March 2005). "An Account of a Brief Bout of Mutant Madness". Archived from the original on April 4, 2005. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  63. ^ Chabon, Michael (July 2005). "Maybe Not So Much with the Fantastic". Archived from the original on February 6, 2006. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  64. ^ Sragow, Michael (November 10, 2000). "Wonderful movie". Salon. Salon Media Group, Inc.. Retrieved August 3, 2010. 
  65. ^ Fleming, Michael (March 26, 2002). "Pollack shapes Chabon's 'Clay': Author also ready to wag 'Tales' tomes". Variety. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  66. ^ Davis, Dave (October 19, 2004). "Interview: Sam Raim & Rob Tappert (The Grudge)". Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  67. ^ Kit, Borys (October 29, 2004). "Disney, Chabon retelling 'Snow'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 
  68. ^ Raymond, Nate (August 26, 2006). ""Jews with Swords" Are Coming". The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  69. ^ Vancheri, Barbara (August 11, 2006). "Film Notes: 'Mysteries of Pittsburgh' will film here next month". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved October 6, 2006. 
  70. ^ Purcell, Andrew (February 8, 2008). "Scott Rudin is on a roll". The Guardian (London).,,2253970,00.html. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  71. ^ Fleming, Michael (February 11, 2008). "Coens speak 'Yiddish' for Columbia: Rudin producing adaptation of Chabon's 'Union'". Variety. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 
  72. ^ Raymond, Nate (April 9, 2009). "Chabon Revising John Carter of Mars Script". The Amazing Website of Kavalier & Clay. Retrieved July 2, 2009. 
  73. ^ Cairns, Becky (March 29, 2009). "Pulitzer Prize-winning author visits WSU". Ogden Standard-Examiner. Retrieved July 4, 2009. 


  • Chabon, Michael (1991). A Model World and Other Stories. New York: Avon. ISBN 0-380-71099-4. 
  • Chabon, Michael (1995). Wonder Boys. New York: Picador USA. ISBN 0-312-14094-0. 

External links


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