Michael Chabon: How to Salvage a 'Wrecked' Novel

Related question: architectural plans, architectural models, model building, and model-smashing by Japanese monsters (via Toho Studios) weave their way through Fountain City and its notes. Seems like you've got tropes enough for some novel, if not this one. Have you thought of reassembling those pieces into something else?

The rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, complete with model, eventually found its way into The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Also it flits through Wonder Boys, I recently discovered. And the great Toho novel, though at times Thomas Pynchon has flirted with it, has yet to be written.

Maybe I'm projecting, but Erno the damaged dog feels like an important emotional touchpoint for you. Moreso even than Foster, the partner of Harry's deceased brother. Is the dog a metaphor for the damaged (wrecked) novel itself?

No, I don't think so—or at any rate, certainly a lot less than it is, as one of my annotations suggests, a cheap trick.

A good chunk of the footnotes (which make up half the volume) are given over to a consideration of your own sexuality. What prompted you to address the matter at such length here? Was it something about which you'd received questions but never had the forum/opportunity to address?

Yes. That's it. I have dealt with the subject since then, in an afterword I wrote for a reprint of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and a bit elsewhere. But at the time I was annotating Fountain City, it was something I had been asked about a number of times without ever giving what felt like a satisfactory answer. And, you know, there was Roy, and Foster, these gay characters, and yet another account of a close bond between and gay man and a straight man...

The extensive footnotes make up a meta-narrative that is, if you don't mind my saying so, more interesting than the novel (at least the selection you've given us). Had you been playing around with that kind of a self-commenting work? (A stretch, probably, but you do open the introduction with reference to a book called What is Post-Modernism?)

I don't mind at all; indeed you endorse my own opinion—the fact that the novel isn't very interesting probably explains the whole debacle right there. Let's just forget the whole enterprise! Mystery solved! I'd like to put on the post-modern cape and fly around the room a little bit going ta-da! but honestly the notes are there to serve as the literary equivalent of the label on a packet of silica gel that says DO NOT EAT.

So anyway, what happens next? Chapter 4 leaves Harry in Paris. Does he make it to Berlin? What about Florida, apprenticeship with a visionary architect, baseball, messianic Zionism, radical environmental activism, all of which you tell us make their way into the 1,500 pages of Fountain City?

He meets, or met, a woman, the daughter of the visionary architect. Fell in love with her. Apprenticed himself to her father, followed the latter to Florida to work on a commission to build a neighborhood surrounding a brand new baseball-only ballpark in a mythical Florida burg called Fountain City... I dunno. It was a long time ago. There was an unwilling spy with a fez.

What about the aesthetic lessons you drew from this "fruitful incompletion"? Were there themes and tropes that you would explore elsewhere, or techniques and structures that you would employ successfully in later (published) books?

Well, it's pretty hard to imagine that I could have written, or would have been moved to write Wonder Boys without having gone through Fountain City. And I stole the greenhouse in that subsequent book clean out of FC. The only part of it I was ever able to salvage.

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Douglas Gorney is a writer living in San Francisco.

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