at least one respect — he is carefully non judgmental about a whole
range of issues — turns almost stern. "I think that was the greatest
mistake. You could even call it a crime, perpetrated on all subse-
quent generations of American Jews, to purposely kill offYiddish.
It happened with immigrant Italians and Poles too, of course. Sub-
sequent generations spoke less and less of the language.
"But with Jews, that willful prohibition against speaking Yiddish
— there's a broken thing there." His eyes flash fiercely. For a writer,
the death of a language is not easily forgiven. One of the things he
loves about Los Angeles is living in a heavily Orthodox section
where you can actually hear Yiddish spoken.
He loves the city in other ways as well. "Very vibrant, very ex-
citing, no pretensions to be-
ing a great city, like San
Francisco, which thinks so
highly of itself. I find that
really insufferable." L.A.,
he points out happily,
doesn't look down its nose
He seems to have adapt-
ed to it with great alacrity:
one screenplay already has
been completed, optioned
by hot young Paramount
producer Scott Ruden
(Clueless, The Addams
Family, The Search for
Bobby Fischer), another is
in the works. The first is a
romantic comedy about
two gentlemen escorts who
work on a cruise ship, "sort
of a floating Catskills." The
other he won't talk about
yet. He will not, he insists,
stop writing novels no mat-
ter how successful his
screenplays are. But the
idea of having a career that
straddles both genres, like
writers Richard Price and
John Sayles, for example, sounds pretty good to him.
A NOVEL APPROACH
over, somehow. Fathers and sons, brothers, best friends, male
lovers, whatever the permutations." To write honestly about it,
you can't ignore sexuality, he thinks.
Drugs, too, represent "another territory I thought was not worked
over. I know a lot of people who get high all the time, in their 40s
and 50s, and you don't see that, not on TV, in movies or in books.
The extent of use is so widespread, and so absolutely void in de-
pictions in pop culture. Ridiculous."
He is convinced this will change. "When that Bob Dole gener-
ation is gone, that Depression-era generation with their
disapproval and their lack of experience with drugs..." he said
Inevitably the current polit-
ical scene came up. "I worked
for Clinton! I knocked on
doors," he said, aggrieved.
Now he thinks Mr. Clinton's
election just made things
worse, his very presence
fueling Newt Gingrich's
"Contract With America,"
among other things.
In general, though, his
view on the '90s is upbeat. "I
don't think things are as bad
as everyone seems to think.
I think the perception is a lot
worse than the reality. I'm
troubled by the swing to the
right, but ..." Doesn't a pen-
dulum have to swing back,
sooner or later?
"I'm personally doing well,
knock on wood. I love my
family, I like living in L.A.
Knock on wood. I feel pretty
optimistic about things."
He quickly dismisses the
question of his fame. "No-
body knows who I am. A
little tiny bit more after this
book, but that could all die out
in the next two years.
"If somebody says, like on an airplane, 'What do you do?' and I
say, 'I'm a writer,' and they say, 'Oh, would I have read your book?'
And I say, 'Maybe,' and I tell them the title — they say, 'Sorry.
Don't know you.'
"I'm a lot less famous than someone like ... Joey Buttafuoco."
He is clearly looking for ways to bring more Jewishness into his
life. A mezuzah hangs outside the duplex door. In San Francisco,
where he and his wife lived before their marriage, they belonged
to a synagogue, a gay one, as it happens. Here in L.A., they haven't
found the right one yet, but they're looking.
More important, the couple is exploring ways to celebrate Shab-
bat. "On Friday night we turn off all the phones, we don't go out.
We stay together, light the candles, make a big dinner. Then we
take a bath together. Now that Sophie's here, we take it with her,
too." Mr. Chabon, who works at night, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., five days
a week, takes off Friday and Saturday nights.
It's not a traditional observance, certainly — for one thing, it
doesn't extend past Friday night. But it's a step. "The thought that
you can use Judaism as a way of investing your life with spiritual
meaning is an almost bizarrely radical concept — given the fact
that that's what religion is supposed to be," he said.
"And the fact that it's centered so much around home, family.
Given the way the world is today, that's such a welcome thing."
he long stretch between his two novels has made
the success of Wonder Boys all the sweeter. Mostly
he spent the time, 62 months of it, anyway, wrestling
with a huge saga crammed with subject matter:
baseball, architecture, ecology, love, Florida, Paris.
Too crammed, as it turned out, though setting it
aside finally was "the hardest thing I ever did."
He put it down cautiously, telling no one, giving himself six
weeks to fool around with something new — the same six weeks
his wife planned to devote to studying for the bar. At the end of
that period he knew he had something worthwhile. Generously,
he ceded his own problem to his protagonist, with the result that
Grady, too, is wrestling with a 700-page unfinished novel that
finally, near the end of the book, literally blows out the window —
as neat an example as you could want of an author performing his
Along with his various interests, Mr. Chabon has certain broad
subjects he is drawn to repeatedly in his work. Relationships be-
tween men, for instance. "I keep going back to that over and over," Judy Oppenheimer
is the senior writer for our sister paper, the
he said. "It seems like rich territory, it doesn't seem that worked Baltimore Jewish Times.