Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories Paperback – Jan 2 2000
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Wonder boy Michael Chabon's second collection of stories tackles the American family in all its tragic and often frighteningly funny dysfunction. In the title story, a self-professed "King of the Retards" tries to distance himself from his next-door neighbor and only friend, who has taken their games (Plastic Man, Titanium Man, Matter-Eater Lad) just a little too far. In "House Hunting," a drunk real-estate agent shows a young couple through a house far too expensive for them, pocketing knickknacks and demonstrating a strange familiarity with its rooms. The wrenching "Son of the Wolfman" follows the aftermath of a rape; after a long struggle to conceive, Cara Glanzman becomes pregnant by her rapist and decides to keep the child, even as her husband struggles with his violent thoughts. In spite of the potential for sensationalism in such a plot, "Wolfman" is moving, unsentimental, and like the rest of these tales, wholly original.
Chabon is a master of the lively and unexpected description, his prose studded with images that split these mostly conventionally themed stories wide open. Consider his burly Quebecois carpenter, who has "a face that looked as if it had been carved with a pneumatic drill by a tiny workman dangling from the sheer granite cliff of Olivier's forehead." Or the "local drunks" of a Chubb Island bar, "a close-knit population, involved in an ongoing collective enterprise: the building, over several generations, of a basilica of failure, on whose crowded friezes they figured in vivid depictions of bankruptcy, drug rehabilitation, softball, and arrest." Or, the narrator of "Mrs. Box" and his failed marriage: "...very soon they had been forced to confront the failure of an expedition for which they had set out remarkably ill-equipped, like a couple of trans-Arctic travelers who through lack of preparation find themselves stranded and are forced to eat their dogs." Werewolves in Their Youth is worth reading for such moments alone. When Chabon uses them to illuminate our darkest impulses and fears, the result is often revelatory. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Applying his ironic talents to even darker material than in previous outings, Chabon has produced a winning collection of nine stories. Failed marriages haunt almost all the protagonists; personal disasters, depressive malaise and sexual violence are recurring themes. In "House Hunting," a realtor is more intent on stealing objects from a house than on showing it to his clients, a troubled young couple. His bizarre incompetence increases the tension between them, finally driving them into one another's arms. A young man flees town in "Mrs. Box," hoping to leave the twin disasters of his marriage and his business behind. He stops to visit his wife's senile grandmother and suddenly resolves to rob her of her jewelry, only to find a half-measure of redemption when his plan misfires. In the title story, Paul is the only one on the school playground who can call Timothy back from his werewolf fantasy, but Paul, who is already taunted for smelling weird, can't risk being associated too closely with his strange pal. As a result, Timothy attacks a fellow student and is reassigned to a "Special School." The closing tale, "In the Black Mill," presented as a story by August Van Zorn, a writer Chabon invented in Wonder Boys, is a brilliant riff on pulp horror tales featuring an archeologist who unearths the terrifying secrets of a small town. Here, Chabon is as witty as ever while dispensing with the glibness that sometimes marred his earlier work. His characters, even whey they are silly and flawed, come across as sympathetic, three-dimensional human beings. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
That's when the collection lost me. Chabon didn't get me back again until the last story in the book, a fantastic old fashioned horror story about a strange town, an archeological dig, and a mythical mill where people seem to lose limbs and fingers quite frequently in accidents.
The problem with many of the stories was that they were kind of boring. They took old topics like marriage problems, break ups, moral decisions, family issues...and then didn't really do anything different with them. The stories themselves, while filled with some good writing, seemed like just that--vehicles for some of Chabon's admittedly great sentences. Unfortunately, it takes more than great writing to make a story interesting and good, and these stories lacked the magic and intrigue of his other work (aside from the title story, which is beautiful).
The thing is, there is nothing really wrong with these stories in terms of structure or theme or character or any of those conventional ways of thinking about stories. He does all these, but without flair, leaving the stories feeling kind of bland, like a soup that has all the right ingredients yet still has little flavour.
"Son of the Wolfman", where a woman who has been having trouble conceiving with her husband is raped and impreganated by another man, is the most memorable story because of the issues it deals with. All the other stories are good as well--I won't go into describing each and every one. "The Black Mill" is an interesting little horror yarn, but it's pretty tame by today's standards. I'd suggest Chabon stick with the genre he knows best.
There's not a lot to pick on with this collection of stories. The writing is flawless, the characters are all unique oddballs, and the stories are all interesting. One thing I grew tired of was the constant description of what every room looks like and every person is wearing. A lot of description can add to the atmosphere of the scene and such, but going into what everyone is wearing is irrelevant and becomes tedious after a while.
Anyway, "Werewolves" is howlingly good collection of stories (thank you, I'll be here all week) that I would recommend over "Model World". But I still prefer his novels.
But there is some fun to be had here like in the title story "Werewolves in their Youth." Chabon's portrayal of children and young men is one of his most prodigious strengths (see "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay"), and in this story the unstrained imagination of the children is both funny and poignant. To escape is an important, salient theme in this story as it in his novels.
In other stories, however, his portrayal of adults fails, especially married adults. His sagacity and insights into the world of young men, just does not translate. Although these stories are not lifeless, they lack the zoetic spirit of the stories about children, and his insistence to overmanage the fates of these characters, for lack of a better word, is annoying. Does a story about a couple house hunting and having martial problems, have to be solved by them expelling their sexual energies in the house they are looking at?
But that is the only complaint I have for otherwise excellent book of short stories.
The last story, "In The Black Mill," was a special treat for me. I'm a big fan of gothic horror and this is a wonderful pastiche of M.R. James with maybe a touch of Poe. One hopes that the author never gets so soaked up in Northeastern literary culture that he begins to think that this sort of genre exercise is beneath his dignity.
Most recent customer reviews
Man, maybe I'm a jerk for saying so, but I don't understand the practically unanimous assertion among reviewers who didn't like the book that Chabon's language is ever particularly... Read morePublished on Feb. 13 2002 by Pancho Lefty
Michael Chabon is mostly known for his novels (Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay), but I think his short stories are little gems. Read morePublished on Oct. 25 2001
I love his books, and finding the short stories is like discovering a Japanese release of your favorite band...an unexpected treat everyone else apparently knew existed. Read morePublished on Aug. 22 2001 by tzadik
I'll take an uneven, fearless collection of stories anyday over a homogeneous, sparkling parcel of prose. Read morePublished on May 10 2001 by Paul F. Johnson
I didn't like this, but then I don't like thick flowery language. I think such writing is the equivalent of ham acting. Read morePublished on April 19 2001
I have to admit that the cover of this collection put me off a bit. I'm not usually attracted to Werewolves. Read morePublished on April 18 2001
Chabon is so praised, I try to find quality in his work, but it's pretentious writing, that tries so hard to be literary, and nothing in the stories or the words themselves pulls... Read morePublished on Nov. 3 1999
Don't waste your money. Spend it on something inviting and enjoyable. I read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh twice I enjoyed it so much. Read morePublished on May 14 1999