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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  25,687 ratings  ·  1,910 reviews
The enthralling debut from bestselling novelist Michael Chabon is a penetrating narrative of complex friendships, father-son conflicts, and the awakening of a young man’s sexual identity.

Chabon masterfully renders the funny, tender, and captivating first-person narrative of Art Bechstein, whose confusion and heartache echo the tones of literary forebears like The Catcher i
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 5th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published April 1988)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  25,687 ratings  ·  1,910 reviews

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Jun 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like most stellar! first novels, this one has that autobiographic vibe that perhaps the writer's future novels will only barely, bravely hint at. This one is a coming out story, basically. The protagonist is gay, bi, experimenting. There are overly-masculine (gay) symbols throughout which obviously take no great psychoanalyst to pry open: mysterious men in motorbikes, gangsters, gaming, the faraway suburbs seeming faraway dreams that'll never be. The world so fully inhabited by BRET EASTON ELLIS ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1980s, college
 photo Michael Chabon_zpsvcseps7t.jpg
Michael Chabon looking remarkably like how I envisioned his protagonist looking in The Mysteries of Pittsburg.

“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 th
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So, I loved this book, and kind of wanted it to be my life, the way certain people I could name but won't feel about The Sun Also Rises. I was about fifty pages in, tops, before I found myself casting the movie in my head. (I deliberately avoided looking at the cast list until after I finished reading the book; thank god I did, I would have liked the book, I estimate, about 46% less had I know while reading it that Mena Suvari plays Phlox. Appalling.) Or, to be honest, imagining myself as the le ...more
David Katzman
Jul 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
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
I, like tons of other goodreaders, wish we didn't have to give a book an entire star so really I rate this at a three and a half more than a four.
In any event, I know that I liked this book, I'm just not sure how much I liked it or why I liked it. I mean, if a book holds your attention to the point where you can finish it quickly and are interested in picking it up everyday does that by itself make it a great book? Or a really good book? Because this book was that for me. Then again, some really
Rachel León
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Michael Chabon can write one hell of a novel. This one is his first but has so much poise and wisdom. And it has the added bonus of being immensely readable and not bogged down with super obscure words like some of his work. I gobbled it up.
Mar 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2020, american
I wanted to like this more than I did. Perhaps it is because I started reading this as the Covid-19 ramped up, but I had a really hard time with the narrative. It just didn't propel me very hard. Maybe I'll comeback someday and re-evaluate it, but I've loved several Chabon novels A LOT more. But few books have made me feel worse about not liking them. I feel a bit guilty and ungenerous, but I still just can't say I loved it. ...more
Nikki Boisture
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lindsey
Shelves: favorites
I've read this book three times. I'm trying to decide exactly what it is that I love so much about it. Michael Chabon's writing style makes me long for such skill. I get an ache in my stomach reading his works and loving them so much and wishing his words could come from me. The characters in this book aren't wonderful people, but they are wonderfully real. Art's lack of self-confidence especially speaks to me. When Art falls in love with Arthur I fell in love with Arthur right along with him. I ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Video review

It's a book about well-off youths in the prime of their lives having aimless fun and abundant random sex. What's there not to hate?
Recommended if summer is your favorite season, or you're interested in witnessing the budding of Chabon's flowery prose.
Stef Smulders
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars
Now what a masterful writer is this! Very precise and compelling with beautiful convincing descriptions. When I came across the following lines I had to stop reading, flabbergasted by what must be the best paragraph I read in years:

"Before she committed suicide, when he was seventeen, Cleveland Arning's mother, a laughing woman, taught her son to joke and to ridicule. His father, tall, thin, cut his beard in a goatee and wore great red sideburns that ran up his otherwise bald temples. His name w
Aug 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
I bought this book many years ago while actually in Pittsburgh. I was visiting a girlfriend who was living there, and shortly after my arrival I was unceremoniously dumped.

Browsing the street of the unfamiliar town I was supposed to spend the next 3 days in, I stumbled upon this book. Based on title alone it seemed an appropriate subject, given my recent circumstance. I imagined myself sitting and reading for days at a bench on the Monongahela, forlornly pondering life's intricacies. Instead I w
A contemporary novel about a young man who graduates from college and spends a summer wandering about Pittsburgh. Art, our protagonist, struggles to decide between his male and female lovers, and he also attempts to navigate a risky relationship with his money laundering father, who happens to get involved with one of Art's new friends, Cleveland, an intelligent and disillusioned biker. Throughout all of these relationships Art gets closer to discovering what makes him himself, the most puzzling ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
I'll be generous.

This book did not capture me. The writing felt amateur in ways that stunned me. I remember feeling lost in Kavalier and Clay, floating on wave after wave of blindingly gorgeous sentences, paragraphs, so complex and bold that you couldn't help but feel an awesome seasickness. Here, though, the writing is just plain old insecure. Chabon plays it like a coward, and Art sounds like a boring crybaby who we end up not liking that much because, well, he can't write fo shit.

Not that the
Rebecca Armendariz
Nov 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: girls who like boys. gay boys.
Shelves: favorites-ever
This book is my new personal favorite. Mostly because of this quote,
"Every woman is a volume of stories, a catalogue of movements, a spectacular array of images."

The other quotes I like are:

“There had been a time in high school, see, when I wrestled with the possibility that I might be gay, a torturous six-month culmination of years of unpopularity and girllessness. At night I lay in bed and coolly informed myself that I was gay and that I had better get used to it.”

“It was as though she had stu
Matthew Quann
I've been trying to read a Chabon novel or two per year and I decided the 2019 instalment of my ongoing Chabon-project would be his first, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. While I often hem-and-haw about a star-rating, I feel more confident giving this one a middle-of-the-road review on the Chabon-o-scale. Though the book has a lot of the charm, style, and character work that I've come to expect from Chabon, it suffers from some lack of direction that you'd expect with any first novel.

Even though th
Jun 16, 2007 rated it it was ok
What a stupid book. The writing is uncreative and dull, the plot is close to non-existent, and sweet jesus do I ever hate these characters. All that, and an unsettling number (well, three) of sudden and sloppy accounts of buttsex. I will give credit to the early scene of the party at the Iranian woman's home and the final few paragraphs, but the ~270 pages in between are simply not worth the time. ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: selection of local book club
Shelves: fiction
As this novel opens, two contradictory worlds quickly coalesce around Arthur Bechstein, freshly minted college graduate. The first is uninspired and conventional. The second is filled with open-ended, over-sized, impractical possibilities.

Art Bechstein has lived a sheltered life ever since his mother died when he was 13. His college major in economics attests to the kind of level-headed direction a father would approve of. (A paper on Sigmund Freud's sexual nose fetish tells us where his real in
Mar 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
Oh my. I could read this again and again. I've been saying this tons of times, but I'm certain that the reading experience will always change, will always morph into something else. Every sentence breathes. It's so beautifully written, and many times I find myself pausing just to savor the beauty of it. Here are some quotes that I like:
“I saw that I'd been mistaken when I thought of myself as a Wall, because a wall stands between, and holds apart, two places, two worlds, whereas, if anything,
Feb 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This was Michael Chabon's first novel. He was in his early twenties when it was published. It was widely praised. While many of the critics focused on the sexual ambiguities of the main character, what Chabon clearly showed here was his gift, to this day undiminished, for giving architectural landscape a personality.
In every Chabon novel or story I've read, manmade structures give meaning to the characters' actions. If I exaggerate, then allow me to clarify what I'm saying. Are the characters in
This is what I call the "It was summer and we were young" school of youthful indiscretion and confused attempts at living the Full Life.

The story is filled to the max with sexual confusion, societal yearning and emotional tug of war between what the protagonist calls his beautiful god-like people -- all put together in a sleepy, yellow-warm and lyrical package.

I had a little difficulty buying into some of the situations and characters and I'm not entirely certain the ending had been built up e
Kaethe Douglas
2000 Mar 01

Add this to Brideshead Revisited for the list of Books in Which I fell In Love with Both a Male and a Female Character. And also, with a city. And the idea of being in college, which wasn't much at all like my experience.


Now to see what I think of it 30 years on, with my own kid in college.

I'm always surprised on a reread to see how much I have forgotten: big, important plot points are lost, but I remember details, like The Cloud Factory. Here I remembered the falling in love, b
Apr 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-lit
Might I just say that over the last few days I’ve found it intensely irritating when anything has come between this book and me. Suckered in from the opening sentences:

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. We’d just come to the end of a period of silence and ill will – a year I’d spent in love with and in the same apartment as an odd, fragile girl whom he had loathed, on sight, with a frank
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
My fourth Chabon work in a row after having read Final Solution, Model World, and Werewolves in their Youth in the past few weeks. Thankfully, this is the last of his early works for me to read, since I don’t know how much more unpolished Chabon I can take. Mysteries is Chabon’s first published work, his master’s thesis at Cal-Irvine. The book takes place in Pittsburgh at an unnamed college, and revolves around a college student named Art Bechstein whose father is a Jewish gangster. Art meets se ...more
Take a dull boy in a dull city during a dull, liminal summer. Not an adult but soon-to-be, not really anything yet but certain he will be. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh begins at this doorway and records Art Bechstein’s quest for a summer of whimsy and profundity that will change him for the better.

June finds Art making fantastic new friends who all seem to know how to live better than he does. Inspired, Art sits atop a hill in Pittsburgh and thinks this:
I smoked and looked down at the bottom
Sep 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
I saw the awful adaptation of this book recently and was so impressed by the tone of the piece and what lay at the heart of the mess they made they I immediately decided that the book should be moved to the top of my to be read list. Now I can safely say that it was an adaptation in names and places only yet the tone and heart was lost in a different type of mess.

Perhaps mess is too strong a word for describing the book, I just couldn't connect with it and didn't really care about what I was rea
Jul 13, 2009 rated it did not like it
I went to add this book and couldn't remember the title, in spite of having just finished it this month. That's a good approximation of my experience with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh--pretty forgettable. It's one of those moody books set in a roughly indiscriminate time period (it's clear from the text that it's supposed to be some point between 1980 and 1990, but the way it's written it could easily be 1920...or 50...or 72) that's primarily concerned with characterization and not really interes ...more
Megan Baxter
Dec 14, 2015 rated it liked it
The only other Michael Chabon book I have read is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but that was enough to put him on my radar in a big way. In picking up this book, I was going back to his very early work, a coming-of-age-in-a-hot-summer tale of sexuality and transgression.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This first novel of Michel Chabon presents some of the most characteristic features of author's further development. In the small and dense atmosphere of Pittsburgh, Chabon introduces the reader to the world of a young man and its perplexities. Written with wit, embroidered with tiny observations about life, the story goes along with the main character's summer adventures, his personal discoveries and biases.

Although some moments when the whole writing has captivated my attention and pushed me
Dec 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
A young person is often the protagonist of novels, but it’s the rare one that is written by an author in their twenties, and it shows. There is a certain barely post-adolescent energy that percolates through this novel that detracts from its accessibility, but this is outweighed by the authenticity of feeling that imbues the entire novel. This is not the work of an author evoking their past but a bolt from their present reality. It has that in common with many of Kerouac’s novels like the Subter ...more
Alex Ankarr
Dec 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: no
Uurgh. Filed this under 'no'. Especially detest all the very precious, embarrassingly over-the-top descriptions of the delightfulness and wonder - alleged - of the female character. I so much hope that Wonder Boys is better, because I love the film and I gotta read the book one day. ...more
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Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made in ...more

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