Overview: Memorable characters and occasionally engaging moments manage to outweigh the underdeveloped and tedious, secondhand plotlines; but just barOverview: Memorable characters and occasionally engaging moments manage to outweigh the underdeveloped and tedious, secondhand plotlines; but just barely.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, Published by Harper Perennial, 1989.
This relatively short piece by Michael Chabon might initially appear to have everything a young student could possibly want. It details a college student’s summer during which he drinks, smokes, makes love, goes to parties and, on occasion, mentions his apparently lousy job. Add a recurring plotline of the main character’s relations to a group of gangsters and we should surely have a guaranteed hit to keep us continually gratified. And while we’re given some honestly good material to read here, it isn’t exactly cult classic-inspiring.
Our aforementioned character of first-person portrayal is Arthur “Art” Bechstein, whose classless summer sees him making mildly peculiar acquaintances. These connections oftentimes lead to either trivial or serious conflicts between Art and his friends, which generally aren’t offset well by dinner and movie nights with his father; who is immediately revealed to be a “gangster.” Among the short list of supporting characters are the gay and witty Arthur Lecomte, the comfortably alcoholic Cleveland Arning, and Phlox Lombardi, a somewhat quirky love interest who comes off as strangely similar to Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club.
Correspondingly, character development turns out to be The Mysteries in Pittsburgh’s greatest strength. Each individual is vividly brought to life with personalities as colorful as the descriptions of their clothes. Granted, a key reason this is accomplished even during the earlier parts of the book is because Chabon has only provided a small selection of characters to detail and present. Though since the book is a generally easy and quick read, this means readers will seldom be confused, if ever; especially in regards to who’s present and what they’re doing. The only notable shortcoming with each of the characters is that none of them are completely likable or sympathetic. Although this means we get realistic depictions of each person, it doesn’t distinguish from how no one, not even Art, is worth getting behind as somebody of peak concern.
This leads to how one will look at The Mysteries in Pittsburgh, and what’s clear from the premise alone is that it’s a character-driven book. In spite of this, Chabon decided to incorporate and, at points, delve into the plotline of Art’s father as a mobster and his own relations as well. These sequences feel like an attempt to give the novel more of a plot to follow than simply what Art and his friends do during the summer. Unfortunately, this only results in a compromise to the real story at-hand without decent results. It’s during these parts that the book loses focus and gives the reader the impression that Chabon felt the need to add something that was ultimately unnecessary.
The Mysteries in Pittsburgh certainly has the workings of a potentially great read that would warrant more than just one or two re-reads. However, the final product simply doesn’t reach its full potential. This is worthwhile book for its somewhat relatable characters, especially if the interested readers are in their late teens or early to mid-twenties; but nothing here is truly captivating and its lasting impression is too short-lived to earn a full recommendation....more
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