Youth is famously difficult to sustain. At the age of twenty-five Michael Chabon made his reputation with the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a version of his postgraduate thesis. It was a work characterised by its freshness, energy and dauntlessness – in other words, its youthfulness. His skill with alternate history, his catholic tastes in literature (he valued Superman as highly as Updike) and his frisky prose style, swinging happily from the mannered to the demotic, made him seem like a less jaded Thomas Pynchon. Now forty-nine, his more recent work doesn’t quite weep over his ageing lot, but it does dwell on the challenges maturity poses a person – and we might assume by implication, an artist.
Chabon’s previous book, a collection of essays entitled Manhood for Amateurs, often used the values expressed in the popular culture of his youth as a counterpoint to the failings of contemporary life. He regrets the passing of a time when he could let his imagination run riot with Lego that