Overview: Memorable characters and occasionally engaging moments manage to outweigh the underdeveloped and tedious, secondhand plotlines; but just bar...moreOverview: 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.(less)
A good, short book that takes a fairly young-spirited story while tossing in some serious points without ever feeling like it's geared more towards an...moreA good, short book that takes a fairly young-spirited story while tossing in some serious points without ever feeling like it's geared more towards an older audience. In fact, most younger readers will likely get the most out of this book, but there's some room for an older audience to at least get something out of it. The colorful, well-defined characters definitely stand out and give us more than enough reason to care while we follow along. Easily accessible and a recommended reading overall. (less)
Both heart-wrenching and enlightening while being almost tragic, Crazy Heart gives an honest look into the late years of an alcoholic country musician...moreBoth heart-wrenching and enlightening while being almost tragic, Crazy Heart gives an honest look into the late years of an alcoholic country musician. Bad Blake is an irresistibly lovable character who we imagine ourselves as along what seems to be the last stretch of road he's driving. While I'll admit the romantic side to the story is predictable, the story and meaning behind it is more than justified. We see that, despite his fading lifestyle, Bad Blake is still able to find inspiration with the potential to change; he's not hopeless, depressing or pessimistic. This is a tale well worth visiting many times for the reminder that even when completely up against the wall, hope can still remain and possibly prevail. (less)
All the President's Men is a bit of a peculiarity on my end. For my college Journalism class, we watched the movie version of this book towards the en...moreAll the President's Men is a bit of a peculiarity on my end. For my college Journalism class, we watched the movie version of this book towards the end of the semester. What drew me to the book wasn't, however, that I liked the movie. Quite the opposite; I found the movie to be uninteresting and generally boring. But as a then-aspiring journalistic writer, I assumed that the book might be a more worthwhile trip as I'd be reading instead of watching. With regards to the book, I'll say that, despite the fact it didn't engage me much more than the film, I still found some key points of interest with the approaches taken by Bernstein and Woodward. Thus, it should be clear my rating of the book is more in-line with how good I see the book as outside of my opinion (something I'm still trying to incorporate into my overall verdict of just about anything). If you're interested in taking up a journalistic type of profession, then I think this is a book worth reading despite potential for not enjoying it. (less)
Benioff's novel tackles a question that many of us wouldn't think of asking ourselves until hitting us right in the face: What would I do with one day...moreBenioff's novel tackles a question that many of us wouldn't think of asking ourselves until hitting us right in the face: What would I do with one day left before going to prison? Monty Brogan is a likable protagonist and most of his acquaintances are welcome inclusions, but this ultimately leads to what brings the book down. Just like Michael Chabon's debut The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, we see the mob with a supplementary role in The 25th Hour and, unfortunately, the lackluster incorporation leaves the book without proper focus and better development where it belongs. Another part it stumbles is with the ending which, though justified on a conceptual level, leaves an impression that doesn't flow well with the rest of the book.
The 25th Hour could almost be considered a cousin to The Mysteries in Pittsburgh since it shares many of the same strong points and shortcomings. If it weren't for the fact that the plotlines were so easy to distinguish one could be left feeling deja vu. This is to say that The 25th Hour has some strong, occasionally engaging moments, but fails to meet its full potential.(less)
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Wiseguy could be considered a modern tragedy, more or less, given what Henry Hill goes through himself, with his family (outside of the mob) and, to a...moreWiseguy could be considered a modern tragedy, more or less, given what Henry Hill goes through himself, with his family (outside of the mob) and, to a lesser extent, his partners. We see him hit great highs and equally opposing lows. Almost every book or story I read with any involvement of the mob feels like little more than a telling of snobby jerks who have few redeeming qualities, if at all. Thus, this particular novel came as a huge surprise since, for most of its length, the characters were sympathetic on an at least fundamental level. Now, granted, these attachments apply to certain individuals depicted more than others and even those who are the most likable don't remain so for every page they're mentioned. Fortunately, the many struggles they go through and a surprisingly effective amount of attention given a rather large list of characters help make Wiseguy a little easier to appreciate and find worthwhile qualities in than just about any other mob story I've read thus far.(less)
Sometimes all a book needs to gain a dedicated cult or fanbase is rebellious story. Fight Club manaages to provide this and give us an interest twist...moreSometimes all a book needs to gain a dedicated cult or fanbase is rebellious story. Fight Club manaages to provide this and give us an interest twist that, unfortunately, leads to an unmotivated final act. Even though this book is technically about our nameless narrator, Tyler Durdan becomes the real star, especially in the middle third, which is where the book truly shines. His words are darkly comical and occasionally sloppy but enlightening all the while. The best moments involve him and it's where the reader will likely be convinced that the rest of what they read will be along this quality. However, the focus here is simply inconsistent and Palahniuk takes a few too many roads with many of them being uninspired and bog down the overall package. In certain sections, this is a book like few others, but don't anticipate it to retain this quality throughout.(less)
It's rather clear that this book by Isaac Asimov will strike some as fascinating and others as unrealistically off-putting. But part of what makes thi...moreIt's rather clear that this book by Isaac Asimov will strike some as fascinating and others as unrealistically off-putting. But part of what makes this book captivating for readers such as myself is simply the journey a future household robot makes to gain acceptance as a human and truly feel. While it's not masterpiece quality (partly due to its lack of plausibility), this doesn't interfere with the ultimate point and, generally, the delivery of what Asimov is trying to make. Andrew becomes a character who, though lightly comical at first, becomes someone we begin to see ourselves as. Most of his journey is very engaging with only a few moments that hinder it from feeling completely concentrated. A good number of people won't enjoy or appreciate this book, but it's recommendable simply for the potential affections it can leave.(less)
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Despite this relatively small inconvenience, No Country For Old Men remains a great read which might demand revisiting a couple times to truly take in, but this shouldn't be of much concern since it becomes increasingly rewarding.(less)