Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Long before the movie version of Wonder Boys catapulted Tobey Maguire into the public eye, way before he published his Pulitzer-winning The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, back when he was only 25, Michael Chabon published his first novel, a slim coming-of-age story called The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It brought him fame and a good reputation at an age when most writers are still diligently laboring in the vineyards of the literary and little magazines. It is a funny, moving book set during the summer when newly graduated college student Art Bechstein tries to figure out who he is and what to do with his life. In the process he winds up with a boyfriend and a girlfriend, gets involved with the Pittsburgh underworld at levels high and low, and has a series of pleasantly picaresque adventures.
This novel will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Secret History or The Catcher in the Rye, or really any good novel about what it means to be young and in love with the world. Chabon's prose is both exuberant and smooth in this book, telling the story with a minimum of fuss. Pittsburgh is on display in every chapter, a real presence and not just a generic setting, making this the kind of novel that inhabitants might point to if asked "what's it like to live here?" It's also a fun novel to read if you've only read Chabon's later work, partly for the pleasure of the book itself, partly for the pleasure of anticipating how he came to grow in later years.