Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

12 01 2009

mystpittscvr1I recently finished Michael Chabon’s first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a tale of the summer after college.  The narrator (Art) is the son of an infamous gangster and in some ways, that’s the most pedestrian part of the book.  The rest are the crazy twists and turns of a youngman figuring out how to be an adult while forming the kinds of friendship and love that one can only form when they have no real responsibilities.  

For a first novel, the book is beautifully written.  While it starts out a little bumpy, one it gets going the writing is smooth and easy.  In the version I read, Chabon discusses how he wrote the book in a basement crawlspace, precariously balanced on a stool atop a suitcase.  

The thing I think that is most powerful in this book, is the universe Chabon creates.  Not only are the characters powerful, but there is a definite sense of nostalgia for specific places in Pittsburgh.  From the Cloud Factory to the Lost Neighborhood, you get this feeling like part of the city is hidden and just waiting to be discovered.  

While not as powerful as some of his later works suck as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or Wonder Boys, you can clearly see Chabon working out the themes that show up in those later books.  This is a great first novel from a great writer and definitely worth picking up.

Apparently the book was also made into a film in 2008, however the casting makes me think it might not be the best adaptation.  Additionally it appears that they’ve dropped Arthur (there is one who isn’t the narrator) and combined him with Cleveland.

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