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Whose regrets are more painful, writers or readers? Michael Chabon makes a case for the plight of writers in Fountain City, his entry in the new issue of McSweeney's: an unprecedented first-person look into the heartbreak of writerly failure, of the One That Got Away, by a great writer. Described by Chabon as "a novel, wrecked by Michael Chabon," Fountain City is a booklet. It contains the heavily annotated first four chapters of a novel that Chabon wrestled with for five years before abandoning the thing—he describes it as "stepping out on" Fountain City—to write the novel that would become Wonder Boys.

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Fountain City is a remarkable map of the geography of a writer's mind. (Map is the only word that works here; as if to guide the reader into accepting that imagery, the book comes wrapped in a large reproduction of the maplike watercolor of a fictional Washington, D.C., that inspired the novel in the first place.) Chabon's laments, spinning off from the main text on facing pages, range from typical writerly stumbling points when beginning a novel—the main character is too passive—to more glaring warning signs that the book is resistant to good sense, as when the protagonist decides to take two pointless trips for no sane reason at all.

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If you attend enough readings, you are bound to get glimpses at aborted works by authors, as when Daniel Handler, appearing at Seattle Arts & Lectures in September, castigated himself for spending years on a novel about the pain of being an adult orphan. But early on in Fountain City, you realize that the novel's flaws were as invisible to Chabon as flaws in your character are invisible to you...

(Keep reading.)

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