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Monday, December 11, 2006

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful:

September 3, 2003

For any book, "Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is really good, but for a first novel, it's tremendous. The quality of Chabon's writing is so high, it makes me a little depressed to think I could live to be 100 and NEVER be THAT good. That being said, there are always a few minor things to complain about.

The whole story revolves around Art Bechstein, son of a Jewish gangster and recent college graduate, who is spending the summer in Pittsburgh working at a crummy bookstore and going through a sexual crisis. The crisis, like "Wonder Boys" and "Kavalier and Clay" is that Art worries he might be gay and struggles with feelings for his new best friend Arthur and for his new girlfriend Phlox.

My first question--and it's wholly unimportant--is why is Art working at a bookstore all summer? If he's finished school, why isn't he looking to use his degree for a real job? I know when I finished college, I didn't spend my summer loafing around, I was out there trying to find permanent employment. This whole plot of hanging around town for the summer seems more like the summer between high school and college than after college...but maybe that's just me.

Anyway, the characters--except Art--are all a little odd and as has been mentioned by other reviewers, seem stereotypical. Maybe, as Art says in the end, that's the point, that he's exaggerating these people in his memory. I didn't much care for Arthur or Phlox, I wish more time would have been given to Evil Incarnate, biker/hired goon/jewel thief Cleveland. He was a lot more fun than Arthur, Phlox, and even Art who always seemed to be whining or pouting about something or other. Art especially came off as such a whiny wimp that it was really hard to believe he was the son of an infamous gangster.

The ending came abruptly, arbitrarily concluding after one character plunges to his death (I won't ruin that for you readers). It comes so suddenly that it was almost like the author was bored and decided to just quit or was on such a tight word count that he had to wrap it up right NOW. Needless to say, the ending did not really satisfy me. First of all, Art's reflections about the end of the summer, after that certain character dies, should have been expanded and put in an Epilogue to separate it from the main body of the story. Second, just saying what happened for the rest of the summer without much detail, even though it was not of critical importance, looks like sloppy storytelling. That is about the only occasion when I can say that about Chabon's writing.

Despite my nitpicking and second-guessing, "Mysteries" is a wonderful book. The subject matter may make some people uncomfortable, but in the end, this is a book definitely worth reading.

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