As I read Magic and Grace, the highly entertaining, often thoughtful, and strategically humorous new narrative by Chad Hautmann, I couldn’t make up my mind whether or not there was any significant separation between the main character and the author. While most authors exploit their life experiences, Hautmann seems to have gone further than most – into the realm, perhaps, of creative nonfiction. In the end, it might not matter. Chad Hautmann traces Gibb Chapman’s late-blooming transition from a long-delayed adolescence to a semblance of maturity at early middle age with compelling insights, vivid details, and gentle satire.
Like Hautmann, one might conjecture, Gibb Chapman had been in some kind of emotional holding pattern since shortly after the publication of his first novel, What Keats Would Do. A modest, short-lived success (like Hautmann’s 2004 Billie’s Ghost), the book had a fame-to-fizzle path that disoriented Gibb, as did the divorce from his adored ex-wife. His is stuck in a place of grief and unrealistic expectation.
Gibb’s brief flush of flame had gone to his head, and he had behaved insufferably. After discovering that Gibb had been unfaithful, his wife threw him out – and Gibb went on a year-long bender. Now, in an attempt to right himself and win her back, Gibb has moved into a house across the street from his former home where he can be close to Laura and their daughter, Asia. He is off the bottle, but he has a lot to prove to them and to himself.
The main part of the book shows Gibb’s uncertain progress toward growing up at last. His job is to become the person he once aspired to be and to avoid the temptations that had made him into someone else. Tragi-comic episodes abound in Gibb’s attempts to repair a major roof leak; in his battle with the tourist trolleys that, in his view, terrorize drivers and pedestrians; in his confrontation with an evangelical group headquartered in a nearby town dedicated to the Virgin Mary; in his attempts to take responsibility for ending his aging mother’s auto thievery (she escapes from her assisted living home on a regular basis); and in his hospitality to his old, often stoned or drunk, college chum who one day just shows up and moves in.
Some readers may have guessed that Naples is the setting of Magic and Grace. Hautmann presents not a disguised, but a heightened version of this small city, magnifying its charms and foibles. In that way, Naples is treated just like Gibb Chapman, and man of many charms and many foibles.
Dedicated to walking Asia to and from school, he too often gets her there late (luckily – or not – Asia’s teacher has a crush on Gibb). Concerned about religious literature being handed out as children leave school, Gibb manages to have his house picketed by overzealous do-gooders. Curious about how Laura is managing her life (she has begun talking about marrying her new boy friend), Gibb violates the terms of their divorce and her privacy by entering her home without permission and rummaging through her intimate apparel.
Can this end well? Perhaps it can. How? Well, you’ll have to read Magic and Grace to find out. One sign is that Gibb reacts modestly to the unexpected second life given What Keats Would Do when a prestigious reviewer comes upon a used copy and brings the book renewed attention. Gibb no longer plays the big shot. Without losing his zest for life, he has come down to earth. . . .
To read this article as edited for publication in the September-October issue of Fort Myers Magazine with the title “Real Lives Magnified,” click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Chad Hautmann
Bonus Material not included magazine article:
WHAT’S NEW WITH CHAD HAUTMANN?
“I’m working on two books right now. One is a memoir of life with a golden retriever and Himalayan cat—before kids—sort of a meditation on the Zen lessons much-loved pets can bring to our lives. And the other is a complicated novel about the fictional offspring of Madam Chiang Kai-Shek and American politician Wendell Wilke (they did actually have an affair). In real life the two supposedly talked of marrying, using her money to get him elected President, and then ruling the world together, she in the East, he in the West. Anyhow, in the novel I’ll have the offspring attempt to bring that plan to fruition.”