‘Millionaires’ by Michael Chabon

The One You Spent Years Getting Over:

It’s possible that I wasted at least half my twenties being obsessed by this short story from Michael Chabon’s first collection – wanting to permanently inhabit its nostalgic, winter-afternoon mood of doomed and unnecessarily complicated young relationships, wanting to meet and fall in love with a woman as magnificently over-romanticised as its damaged and gloriously-named heroine Kimberly Ellen Donna Marie Trilby, wanting to somehow one day write a story exactly the same as it.

Harry was my best friend, but millionaires have squandered their fortunes, and men have lost their minds, and friends have tracked each other down for less than the sight of a lovely woman in nothing but a sweater.

Re-reading the story now I’m embarrassed by who I was then, and even more by who I wanted to be (it’s not for nothing that someone once wrote a paper on ‘The Short Fiction of Michael Chabon: Nostalgia in the Very Young’), but, my God, Chabon writes some beautiful, beautiful prose. And knows better than anyone how and when to leave stuff out.

I’ve also realised that the best story in that debut collection is actually not ‘Millionaires’ at all, but ‘The Lost World’ (there’s that nostalgia again), a much lower-key, coming-of-age piece that recreates with astonishing grace the exact moment when adolescence tips you out of childhood and into an unknown new country.

You should read them both, though.

(First published in The New Yorker, 1990. Collected in A Model World, and Other Stories, William Morrow/Sceptre 1991)

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