Review – The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon

I acquired this book several years ago, either from my best friend or my ex-boyfriend. They both gave me Michael Chabon books around the same time since I liked The Adventures of Cavalier & Klay so much, and I can’t remember who gave me this and who gave me The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. I am a bad friend/ex-girlfriend because I am just now getting to both of them, although in my meek defense they were given to me right before I started grad school and didn’t have the energy to read much besides except old Terry Pratchett and Agatha Christie favorites. I was doing myself no favors leaving this on the shelf, because I LOVED it.

Three adjectives: Vivid, Delightful, Poignant

A young man graduates from college and faces the summer ahead of him… he drinks a lot, and he has a crush on everyone, but Chabon makes all of this just feel like frothy exuberance that is fun to read and so easy to relate to. And this was his very first novel.

I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but Chabon is able to highlight specific areas of the city–giving the story an authentic, biographical feel–while painting it broadly enough to feel like it could be any languorous college town in the summer. The characters’ clothing, the rooms they inhabit, their dead-end jobs, everything is a little jewel box that makes you really empathize and feel like you wandered aimlessly through this summer right along with them.

Chabon is so very clever when he’s at his best. He uses the summer months as a metaphor and driving element in a couple of different ways, but my favorite was how describes the way May careens into August every year as like riding in an air-conditioned elevator that is shooting to the top of a building. The story is full of wonderful, clever details like this, but it’s always applied with a light touch that keeps the plot from being bogged down by description or device.

One of the reasons I liked this book so much is because it reminded me a lot of how I felt during my early twenties when I graduated from college. I don’t want to presume myself an “enlightened” 28-year-old and act like that was so long ago or that I have gained very much perspective, but it’s still a time I can now look back on with fond embarrassment. I drank too much and had a crush on everyone and worried that people wouldn’t like me because I didn’t know how to act, but all of it was so exciting and charged. Chabon captures and distills this feeling so skillfully and perceptively.

In Conclusion…

I do think I loved this book so much because I could relate to it so much of it, but I also think it is written so skillfully and honestly that many readers will really fall for the characters, their uncertainties, and their fumbling attempts at intimacy. If you like Salinger or Perks of Being a Wallflower, you will probably really like this one as well.

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