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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael…
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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988)

by Michael Chabon

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,551522,125 (3.58)81
Recently added bymmseiple, novelcommentary, e-zReader, MandySue, pauldavidrowe, Orlando_Mas, alo1224, private library
Legacy LibrariesNewton 'Bud' Flounders
  1. 50
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (zhejw)
    zhejw: The Great Gatsby also takes place over the course of one summer after the protagonist graduates from college. Chabon has acknowledged it as one of the influences for his book.
  2. 10
    The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (brianjungwi)
  3. 10
    Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories by Michael Chabon (Patangel)
    Patangel: La même humanité transparait dans ces deux ouvrages du même auteur.
  4. 00
    On the Road by Jack Kerouac (CGlanovsky)
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English (48)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
It was interesting to read the first novel of Michael Chabon who I consider to be one of the best writers out there. His newest novel, Moonglow is one of favorite novels of recent years. From what I understand, the Mysteries of Pittsburgh was submitted as a final thesis for college and his advisor sent it to the publisher, which launched his career. My main complaint is not with the writing but just the simple notion that I didn't love the main character, Authur, who in the course of one summer meets three important people. One is another Art, whose rich, glamorous gay lifestyle lures our protagonist into at least bisexuality; and there is Phlox who is beautiful and also falls in love with Aurthur, and finally Cleveland, the rich kid turned badass who longs to impress Arthur's father, a local gangster. The novel , like Gatsby, takes place during a pivotal summer in the life of the narrator. Arthur has finished college and soon will be working in a business that his father has arranged for him. The writing is always wonderful but in this case I prefer not reading about Authur's sexual adventures and indecisions.

Nyt
there is much to admire here, and what the novel lacks in insight it compensates for in language, wit and ambition, in the sheer exuberance of its voice: the voice of a young writer with tremendous skill as he discovers, joyously, just what his words can do.
Some good lines:
Because, hell, because I corrupted your youth. I don’t know. I took you out to the stockyard behind the family hot dog stand.

When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another’s skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness—and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything. ( )
  novelcommentary | Sep 18, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this audiobook from LTER. I liked Kavalier and Clay and expected to like this too. But I didn’t. I just didn’t get a feel for any of the characters. Nothing really happens. It’s just a brief post grad period in a guys life. Maybe I am too far removed from it all. I liked the writing, just not the storyline. ( )
  andrea58 | Sep 3, 2018 |
Having liked Michael Chabon’s short story collection (Model World) I decided to try his first book. It was taken from his Master's thesis while a grad student. In fact, his professor sent it off to a publisher with Chabon's knowledge (!) and it gained the author a 155k advance.

Mysteries of Pittsburgh is a coming of age novel. Like Catcher in the Ryle it’s a first person account by an adolescent male (Art Bechstein) trying to make his way through a world where he doesn’t fit; and as in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, much of that search involves figuring out his own sexual orientation, at great cost to those who care for him. Nominally, the story involves Art’s relationship with his father and friends and his interactions with a motley bunch of characters on both sides of the law. It’s a wild ride, this book, and while there’s enough of a plot to keep things interesting, the real attraction lies in the author’s unique perspective and exuberant, joyous prose.

As the story begins, his father asks Art his plans for the summer. “I said, more or less… ‘I'm standing in the lobby of a thousand-story grand hotel, where a bank of elevators a mile long and an endless red row of monkey attendants in gold braid wait to carry me up, up, up through the suites of moguls, of spies, and of starlets, to rush me straight to the zeppelin mooring at the art deco summit, where they keep the huge dirigible of August tied up and bobbing in the high winds. On the way to the shining needle at the top I will wear a lot of neckties, I will buy five or six works of genius on 45 rpm, and perhaps too many times I will find myself looking at the snapped spine of a lemon wedge at the bottom of a drink.’ I said ‘I anticipate a coming season of dilated time and of women all in disarray.’”

Despite the title, the story is not set in the downtown, commercial Pittsburgh, but in the nearby academic enclave of Oakland, where resides the University of Pittsburgh, where the author earned his B.A. Readers familiar with the area will love the many local references –the Cathedral of Learning (Pitt’s great gothic skyscraper), the Carnegie Museum, CMU, Shenley Park, the Dirty O, Hillman Library…. The Shenley Park bridge passes over a gorge, and the narrator gazes down, down to where he can see little houses and people … ”I smoked and looked down at the bottom of Pittsburgh for a little while, watching the kids playing tiny baseball, the distant figures of dogs snatching at a little passing car, a miniature housewife on her back porch shaking out a snippet of red rug, and I made a sudden, frightened vow never to become that small, and to devote myself to getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

He meets Phlox, the woman who is to become his girlfriend, and ruminates ”I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalizations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl who majors in French…. The unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French Literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind and she begins to relish such previously unglamorous elements of her vocabulary as langueur and funeste… The writers she comes to appreciate... have an alienating effect, especially on her attitude toward love and her manner of expressing her emotions becomes difficult and theatrical.” They spend the night together: ”When she came back into the room, she wore nothing but a peach teddy, wide-hipped, her face coppery and new washed, her hair pulled up by a white ribbon. She looked 1940ish, the wife of some soldier off fighting the Germans, and briefly I felt the thrill of being an intruder in the house.”


As Art’s summer progresses, he meets Arthur, to whom he develops a strong attachment (only Michael Chabon would give both of his main characters the same first name!); Cleveland (an aging, long-haired, motorcyclist who loves literature, petty crime, and violence); and Jane (whom he first sees hitting golf balls at a house party): "I watched her stroke. It was my father's ideal: a slight, philosophical tilt to her neck, her backswing a tacit threat, her rigid exultant follow-through held for one aristocratic fraction of a second too long. She looked tall, thin and, in the bad light, rather gray in her white golf skirt and shirt. Thik! And she smiled, shaking out her yellow hair.” Jane, we’re told, smells “interestingly of light exertion, beer, perfume and cut grass”).

Working for a loan shark, Cleveland knows that Art’s father has underworld crime connections, and engineers an introduction and a new mentor, the city’s biggest jewel fence. The resultant breach of the wall between Art’s personal life and his father has devastating consequences. The story culminates in a police chase in which Cleveland (who has been purposely exposed by Art's disapproving father) meets a dramatic demise in the aforementioned Shenley gorge. And Art, breaking with his father, leaves for Europe with Arthur, but the relationship peters out. Art's sexual ambiguity remains, and he concludes that the standard categories have little meaning.

At the tale's end, Art reminisces: ” When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another's skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness - and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.”

Chabon's book reads like a first novel. It is not perfect. The characters are sometimes flat, and plot elements (notably the mysterious death of Art's mother) are hinted at but not developed. Furthermore, at times his phraseology seems too mannered and affected, too purposefully idiosyncratic, as if the author spent hours laboring over a single sentence. Nonetheless, for readers who appreciate it, his prose is often magical, exuberant, and unlike anything attempted before. As a first novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh is remarkable achievement. ( )
1 vote danielx | Aug 16, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I had a difficult time getting into this book at the start, but once I gave it a chance through it's bizarre plot line, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And the ending did not leave any regret, I had a good laugh. ( )
  Shannon_Heusdens | Jul 29, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
My eyes rolled so much when reading this, I thought they might pop out of their sockets. This is one of our great American writers? A Pulitzer Prize winner? What a sad state of affairs that is. I suppose Kavalier & Clay is the one I'm supposed to read...but since I received this from the publisher for free, and it was by Chabon, I thought at least it would be good if not great.

It was terrible. Just awful. There was almost nothing about it that I liked. It was nearly unbearable, and I would have put it aside without finishing it if I hadn't owed the publisher "an honest review" based on the free book. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh really got on my nerves. First person stories can be tricky. You have to be willing to live with the character for an entire book. The main character here was a whiny, douchebaggy, lying, pseudo-witty, insecure, recent college grad trying to "find himself." I just wanted to constantly slap him, not to hear his semi-clever little jokes and his oh-so-tedious struggle with "deciding" if he was gay or not gay. Get the fuck over it, buddy. I couldn't care about this guys struggle to decide whether or not to cheat on his girlfriend (whom he thought he loved) with this charming Machiavellian hipster dude. I have no doubt there are many in society today who struggle with their gender ambiguity. But reading about this sort of whiny struggle in the 80s didn't provide any better understanding about the struggle today. It's seemed so dated...this book has lost its relevancy since it was published in 1988.

Perhaps that is mainly due to the awkwardness and contrived nature of all the relationship in this particular book. I'm sure in the hands of other more capable authors, a story of facing ones gender ambiguity could be meaningful in ANY time setting. But in this particular story, the storytelling no longer seemed relevant. I would think that almost everyone who reads Pulitzer Prize winning mainstream literary authors is 99.9% likely to be socially liberal even if they are economically libertarian. So who is gaining empathy for someone struggling with being gay in the 80s? We've moved on past this, and the battle lines are clearly set between the right-wing racist/homophobes authoritarians who support the Republican party and the liberal humanists who range from supporting Democrats to anarchists, socialists, etc. Right wing homophobes are not reading Chabon and aren't going to be moved either by this annoying hipster college grad weiner who can't make up his mind about what he is. If you are trying to get readers to accept and like someone struggling with gender ambiguity then create someone we can care about.

The other characters were equally smarmy, phony and awkwardly written. And their relationships were just odd and a few steps off from realistic. I liked none of them nor believed any of them despite the profusion of tiny character details intended to build realism. I fluctuate in my appreciation for realistic characters and experimentalism in literature. It's books like these where they teeter between contrived details to create believability and "quality" writing (yes, he's not incompetent as a writer) where I become most disgusted by realism, feeling the author is just attempting to trick the reader into believing his story.

This book's premise seems dated (it literally is, being set in the 80s) and besides the point. In fact, it's so besides the point that the supposedly realistic characters in this book never ONCE mentioned anything about politics. It's set in the 80s when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were Presidents for fuck's sake. And not a single mention of it by any character? These were all kids just graduated or recently graduating college. And the government never once crossed their mind? That reinforced the bizarre myopia for me. And writing about Pittsburgh...if the setting was important enough to put in the title, then what was the point of that? What did we learn about Pittsburgh? One would think we would learn about the experience of living in Pittsburgh, perhaps the collapse of the steel industry and blue-collar career opportunities and unions would be some aspect of the book. Nope. For some reason Chabon elected to choose semi-intellectual college grads who seems more like New Yorkers to represent the city. And gangsters. Yes, old school mafia gangsters. These choices baffled me and felt completely irrelevant to understand...the city or anyone, for that matter. Post-college grads trying to "find themselves" could happen in any city, but somehow this was supposed to represent Pittsburgh? And somehow the mashup of recognizing one's gayness or bisexuality gets mashed up with dealing with his father being in the mafia? It was a schizophrenic muddle that did not come together.

I get the feeling some of the relationship stories in here were fictionalized autobiography. Big. Deal. They made for a terrible and terribly annoying story. If this character was somehow based himself, then all I can say he, he makes a terrible character that I wanted to run over with a car.

Mysteries of Pittsburgh? More like the Mysteries of Why Chabon Wrote this Self Indulgent Waste of Time. It's just a bad book.
( )
  David_David_Katzman | Jul 15, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Chabon’s talent bursts from the pages. For instance, he is very good at describing inebriation: “I had drunk very much very quickly,” Art, the narrator tells us, “and wasn’t following the action of the film too well. Everything seemed impossibly fast and noisy.” There are intriguing jokes: “I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalisations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl that majors in French.” And there are some excellent character portraits, such as that of Jane, who is introduced to readers thwacking golf balls across the neighbourhood at a house party, smelling “interestingly of light exertion, beer, perfume and cut grass”.
added by danielx | editThe Guardian, Sam Jordison (Aug 15, 2017)
 

"Cleveland and I drank until the bar closed. It was a hot night, and the ceiling fans ruffled our hair and tore the cigarette smoke into little scraps. Each bottle of Rolling Rock came to us pearled with condensation," remembers Art, about to recall the occasion when Cleveland started reciting Frank O'Hara. "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" has hundreds of such moments, effortless, golden, reminding us that Chabon always had the capacity to amaze; he was, and is, the wonder boy.
 
there is much to admire here, and what the novel lacks in insight it compensates for in language, wit and ambition, in the sheer exuberance of its voice: the voice of a young writer with tremendous skill as he discovers, joyously, just what his words can do.
 
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Epigraph
We have shared it out like thieves
the amazing treasure of nights and days
J.L.Borges
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To Lollie
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At the beginning of the summer I had lunch with my father, the gangster, who was in town for the weekend to transact some of his vague business.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060790598, Paperback)

By the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:13 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Now reissued, Michael Chabon's "New York Times" bestselling first novel is a funny, tender coming-of-age novel that introduces readers to Art Bechstein, a Holden Caulfield for the post-Boomer/pre-Gen X-er generation. Chabon's first novel was universally lauded as the arrival of a rare and remarkable new literary talent who has proved to be one of our most profound and original writers.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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