The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

by Michael Chabon

Book, 2011



Call number




New York, NY : Harper Perennial, 2011


Michael 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 in the Rye's Holden Caulfield and The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh incontrovertibly established Chabon as a powerful force in contemporary fiction, even before his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay set the literary world spinning. An unforgettable story of coming of age in America, it is also an essential milestone in the movement of American fiction, from a novelist who has become one of the most important and enduring voices of this generation.

Media reviews

Chabon’s talent bursts from the pages. For instance, he is very good at describing inebriation: “I had drunk very much very quickly,” Art, the narrator tells us, “and wasn’t following the action of the film too well. Everything seemed impossibly fast and noisy.” There are intriguing
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jokes: “I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalisations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl that majors in French.” And there are some excellent character portraits, such as that of Jane, who is introduced to readers thwacking golf balls across the neighbourhood at a house party, smelling “interestingly of light exertion, beer, perfume and cut grass”.
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"Cleveland and I drank until the bar closed. It was a hot night, and the ceiling fans ruffled our hair and tore the cigarette smoke into little scraps. Each bottle of Rolling Rock came to us pearled with condensation," remembers Art, about to recall the occasion when Cleveland started reciting
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Frank O'Hara. "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" has hundreds of such moments, effortless, golden, reminding us that Chabon always had the capacity to amaze; he was, and is, the wonder boy.
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there is much to admire here, and what the novel lacks in insight it compensates for in language, wit and ambition, in the sheer exuberance of its voice: the voice of a young writer with tremendous skill as he discovers, joyously, just what his words can do.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jwmiller5
I loved this book. I went to school at Carnegie Mellon and I can remember loking out the window in my Corporate Finance class to see the Cloud Factory hard at work. The authors' comments are eye-opening. My wife is a writer and reading Michael Chabon's comments reassured me about the processes I
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see her go through.
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LibraryThing member traciolsen
Michael Chabon is delicious; his prose style is scrumptious. This is amazing in its own right, but more so because it was his Master's thesis. Damn. And now I get to keep this book, because I had borrowed it from Katy but then accidentally left it out in the rain because I am a terrible person.
LibraryThing member wandering_star
The action in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh takes place the summer after Art Bechstein graduates from university. He's always led a pretty protected and risk-averse life, and he's not really sure what he wants to do, but he knows that he is looking for something bigger, wilder, more exotic. At the
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start of the summer he falls in with a crowd of people who seem to fulfill this need - they have all recreated themselves as Gatsby-esque Wild Young Things. But his involvement with them sets off a sequence of events - with consequences that spiral out of control.

This was Chabon's first novel, written while he was still a student, and it shows: there are signs of the style, imagination and playfulness which make Kavalier & Clay as good as it is - but this feels as if he is just trying to fit too many ideas in - and some of it (Phlox's personality, Cleveland's descent) are a bit too cartoonishly drawn.
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LibraryThing member Jeffrey414
This book reminded me of the Donna Tartt book, “Secret History” we read earlier in the book club. That Chabon began writing this when he was twenty-two and published it at twenty-five as a thesis for his Master’s degree made it even more incredible for me. He develops his characters far
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better than many contemporary writers. This was another coming-of-age book about relationships, college, finding oneself, drinking too much, drugs, and plenty of sexual tension. The lure of intelligent, wealthy, outgoing yet disturbed friends and wild sexual liaisons. ‘Art’ enters into every one of his relationships with trepidation and anxiety. His relationship with his wealthy, critical, ‘gangster’ father was quite disturbing. I found myself cheering for Phlox as Art was contemplating Arthur or her as his true love. I was also wondering whether this was an autobiographical work and possibly mirroring his own sexual history. Chabon is married and has children but revealed that he in fact has had early sexual relationships with women and men. I enjoyed this book. I was startled that a story covering a single summer could be so packed with adventure, intensity, and drama. Possibly only published because his advisor was a novelist and sent his thesis to his publisher!? Too bad John Kennedy Toole (“A Confederacy of Dunces”) didn’t have the same advisor.
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LibraryThing member keywestnan
In the late '80s, when brat pack lit was the rage and the likes of Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz were getting all the attention, Chabon was quietly doing the real stuff. This is his first novel and it's great. Fortunately, he has since been recognized for his talent. As a
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coming-of-age novel of the 1980s, you can't do better than this.
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LibraryThing member lenoreva
My friend and I were in the middle of a converstation about some very strange relationships we had been in with men, when she suddenly shouted "You must read 'The Myteries of Pittsburgh' by Chabon!" So I picked it up. I found it to be a light read (pretty good for the airplane). Although I enjoyed
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the character of Phlox, I was pretty disapointed with the rest of the book. Poor Phlox is all I can say. I don't think this is a horrible book necessarily, but it certainly does not deserve 5 stars. Basically, the characters bored me and I found myself skimming over large sections. Worth the time only if you have nothing better to do, or if you a girl who has ever lived through having your boyfriend dump you for a man and want to re-live your pain.
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LibraryThing member TimFootman
Starts off wanting to be he Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye, half-way through settles for Less Than Zero, ends up St Elmo's Fire II.
LibraryThing member figre
I cannot get a personal handle on Michael Chabon. Sometimes I think he’s phenomenal and sometimes he leaves me completely cold. In this case, he just left me somewhere in between. The story is about one summer in the life of Art Berchstein. He falls in a couple of different loves and has to sort
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out what it means to be who he is. Yep, your basic coming of age story, but Chabon can never let it be normal. First, he always writes well. Second, this coming of age includes coming to grips with a gangster family background. (This is nicely underplayed until the book builds. In other words, it seems a throwaway, and then becomes important.)

Really good stuff throughout. And yet, at the end of it all, it still didn’t move me as much as I would expect. A good story and good characters. Yet it still ended with the “what do I care about these people” that often plagues these angsty coming of age stories.

It is not to say that I don’t recommend this book. However, I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone else, either.
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LibraryThing member miriamparker
This book makes me happy because it is not perfect, but it is good and it shows the promise of what's to come for Chabon as a writer. And that is enjoyable.
LibraryThing member citygirl
Michael Chabon is a brilliant writer: insightful and lyrical, he offers descriptions so original that, as a writer, I am simultaneously inspired and disheartened by his abilities. He reminds me of Updike, but more personal and easier to read. This book is Chabon's first. It is the flawed first book
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of a brilliant writer. Definitely worth reading, but the pacing was very much off, so it gets three and a half stars instead of four.
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LibraryThing member Asperula
I am a fan of Michael Chabon and am glad to have finally read his first published novel. I liked the book very much, but when I got to the end, I knew why he wrote it. It was so he could include the last beautiful paragraph:
"When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer,
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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 them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything."
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LibraryThing member Antholo
I don't have much to say about T.M.O.P. except that "it was okay." I didn't dislike it, but I didn't really connect with it. It didn't grab, challenge, molest, or seduce me. It was okay.
LibraryThing member presto
Art Bechstein, fresh out of college, notices an attractive young man in the library, no sooner is he outside the library than this attractive young man, the very appealing and flamboyant Arthur is standing beside him. In addition the attentions of Arthur, Art struggles with his uncertain feelings
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for Phlox, the strange girl who works in the library. So begins a summer of friendships, sex and parties, and a beautiful relationship that eventually dispels any doubts Art might have had about his sexuality. Add to that the hint of gangsters and the mysterious smoke from a factory; it all contributes to captivating read.
This is a thoroughly engrossing and interesting story, beautifully written and full of vitality, wit and humour.
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LibraryThing member caroldurons
Since the first time i read it i fell in love with it, it has humor and gives a view of what life really is like, the movie wasn't awesome but the book deserves five stars
LibraryThing member railarson
While not as amazing as the two that would follow, Chabon’s first novel has its moments. Then again, it has its moments.
LibraryThing member kirstiecat
Well, I think this book is a little socially immature..the writing is still of pretty high quality but I would not recommend ever reading this book over The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay unless you're going through a sexual identity crisis. I do like the bit about the Cloud Factory
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LibraryThing member emanate28
I have no doubt that Michael Chabon is a unique writer with remarkable writing style...but it's just that I couldn't understand what he was saying. Maybe I'm not familiar enough with gangster vocab and practices, but I sadly understood less than 10% of what was going on...
LibraryThing member nog
Sort of a "coming of age" affair, or is that "coming out", or just "coming"? Sort of Chabon's calling card as a writer, the book demonstrates an early skill at writing, not so much at plot and character development. I wouldn't start here if I wanted to read Chabon and hadn't done so.
LibraryThing member talimckell
I'd actually give it a 3.5. A book that kept me interested, but did not blow me away. If you like bildungsroman, you'll probably like this.
LibraryThing member Rincey
I forget that I don't like Michael Chabon as much as I think I do.
LibraryThing member KristySP
I loved this book. It's a great spring/summer read. I read most of it lying on my stomach on a blanket in the backyard on the most beautiful day in May. Michael Chabon before he was MICHAEL CHABON! A coming of age story full of wonder and adventure and just a touch of sadness.
LibraryThing member nog
Sort of a "coming of age" affair, or is that "coming out", or just "coming"? Sort of Chabon's calling card as a writer, the book demonstrates an early skill at writing, not so much at plot and character development. I wouldn't start here if I wanted to read Chabon and hadn't done so.
LibraryThing member Matt_Sessions
A coming-of-age story that packs on the sentimentality, often justifiably. The plot seems a bit forced from time to time - particularly at the conclusion - but always moves along speedily. The characters do much of the novel's heavy lifting, adding intrigue, humor, and warmth that bring what could
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be dry melodrama to a glowing story. Chabon is clearly a skilled writer, offering playfully eloquent descriptions and piercing insight. THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH is a mostly-rewarding first novel, held back by its blankly unfulfilling conclusion.
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LibraryThing member jeffome
Enjoyed this a lot...I dove in as i prefer, with basically zero knowledge of the book, topic, author, etc......i just started reading. Seems as if this was a rather insightful story of that first summer post college graduation.....that last gasp before officially starting adulthood. Arthur, with
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the grudging blessing (and money!) from his father, spends a final summer in Pittsburgh before figuring out what he wants to do. Lots of drinking, smoking cigarettes, new friends, lovers, experiences, family revelations, road trips, etc. Relationships thrive, they wallow, they fail......unexpected unions, attractions to uncomfortable situations, confronting his father and the reason behind his support......all told in a very relatable manner with honesty and humility. Some characters i really disliked...but that was likely the point.....and Arthur's willingness to step so far out of his box was unnerving now and then......but it still seemed believable to a point. Not bad for a first novel by Chabon. (My particular volume had Chabon's own thoughts on writing this, his first novel....and I really enjoyed that, as well!) Looking forward to his remaining works...most of which are already on my shelves.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A marvelous coming of age tale as can only be told by Michael Chabon. I think he is an incredible storyteller. He creates iconic characters, uses language masterfully, and is very witty. It was fun to read his first novel after having enjoyed all those which followed!

Original publication date



0062072234 / 9780062072238
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