Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Perfect Chabon

Because I'd written last week about Van Gogh's stay in St. Paul's hospital in Saint-Remy, I intended to describe some aspects of the place as it stands today, especially a chapel that sits next to the visitor's wing of the hospital. (The hospital is very much a functioning treatment center today, with the visitor's wing intended for anyone curious about Van Gogh and what therapies would have been used in his day.) The chapel is a beautiful, dark, still, and vaguely musty place. It goes unmentioned in Van Gogh's letters, yet my visit there inspired a scene in my novel. But more on that on my next post. Because today, while reading Michael Chabon's new collection of essays Manhood for Amateurs, I came across a passage that just made me hoot--and salute. So much so that I need to share it with you. And there's actually a connection to what I will write about in regards to the chapel at St. Paul's. I am not Jewish, as Chabon is, but as someone who has tried to assist in a rather liberal Episcopal Sunday school class and in so doing have struggled to explain the ethical sense of certain Old Testament stories, I could only sympathize with the following: "One thing I know for certain, and have known since the age of five or six, is that I really can't stand the God of Abraham. In fact, I consider him to constitute the pattern to which every true asshole I have ever known in my life has pretty well conformed. In His infinite capacity to engineer and experience disappointment, in His arbitary and capricious cruelty, and in the evident pleasure He derives from the exercise thereof, there is probably a sharp insight into the nature of fathers generally, since at one time or another, if not on a daily basis, each of us fathers is the biggest asshole in the world."

I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Btw, Manhood for Amateurs is such a brilliant and brilliantly honest book, I'm tempted to say that Chabon, who writes superb fiction, has found the genre he's really meant to work in. Back to Van Gogh next time.


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