Mysteries of Pittsburgh

the-mysteries-of-pittsburgh-michael-chabon-amazoncom-books-1419884591kn48gMysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon

The description of Mysteries of Pittsburgh at Barnes and Noble, and on the back of my book, calls it an “unforgettable story of coming of age in America” and says it “echo[es] the tones of literary forebears like The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield and The Great Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway.”  My problem with the book is that it read like a book that was trying to be a coming of age story that echoes the tones of The Cather in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.

Like so many others, I know and love Michael Chabon from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, two books which I absolutely adore.  So when I came across Mysteries, Chabon’s first book, at (naturally) a used book sale,  I had to pick it up.

Mysteries follows a young man, Art Bechstein, the summer after his graduation.  Art, the son of a mobster who yearns for his family to go legitimate, meets a young man Arthur Lecompte, at the beginning of the summer and Arthur’s best friend, Cleveland, who has gotten pulled into the mob world and wants to play on Art’s connections.  More relevant to the plot than any of the mob-stuff, though, is Art’s relationship with a girl he meets at the same time, Phlox, and his budding relationship with Arthur while he’s trying to discover who he really is and break free from his father’s control in every way.

The novel isn’t bad, and in some ways it, like Tractors in Ukranian, suffered from my high expectations.  One thing the novel did well in particular was emphasize how when you’re at that point in life, one summer can somehow take an entire lifetime and everything can change.  And the descriptive writing is great, with Pittsburgh being its own character in the book.  Beyond that, though, I never really got pulled in.  The characters didn’t feel entirely fleshed out and came off as a bit flat, and the novel felt like it was trying too hard to be a coming of age story, trying to hard to evoke all the other coming of age stories.  It never felt real to me, or that the story was wholly its own and wholly comfortable in its own skin.  The book has received numerous accolades, but I think Chabon took a little more time to really find his voice.  But once he did he can’t be beat.



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