The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Ok, so I really like the movie Wonder Boys. Wonder Boys the movie is based on a book written by Michael Chabon.
At the time I first saw the movie, that name meant nothing to me, but a few years back, I stumbled across a short-lived blog written by Ayelet Waldman (Bad Mother). I’d never heard of her before that, either, but the blog was funny. Anyhow… somewhere in there I learned that she was married to Michael Chabon, who was supposedly a Great Writer. O rly? So I guess I Wikipediaed him or something and made the Wonder Boys connection.
Fast-forward to one of our annual pilgrimages to The Book Shop in Penticton, and I spot The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. It’s not Wonder Boys, but I decide to give it a shot. Especially since one of the cover blurbs compares it to The Catcher in the Rye. O rly? How come I’ve never heard of it then? And why is everything compared to TCitR?
Aside: Honestly, sometimes I feel like I’m living on another planet literature-wise. I’ve read a lot of books, a great many of which would be classified as literature, and yet… too frequently the litblogosphere will be fussing all over someone and I’ll be all “who?” (David Foster Wallace) or “obviously I know who he is, but I’ve never read him—am I the only one?” (John Updike). I’m starting to think maybe I have a (perhaps deliberate) blind spot for white male American literary authors with a certain pedigree: the kind of dudes who used to have BAs from Ivy League schools, professorships in English departments, wear tweed jackets with suede elbow patches and smoke pipes and now have MFAs from Ivy League schools, professorships in creative writing departments, wear black T-shirts and well-worn jeans and smoke well, you know.
So anyway… Michael Chabon. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Well, first of all, apparently he wrote this when he was 24, so props to him. When I was 24… well, actually 24 was a pretty good year for me. But I didn’t write a novel.
I actually found TMoP pretty entertaining, but not realistic. at. all. It’s about this dude (Art) who’s on the verge of graduating from university and works at a bookstore having a bit o’ an existential crisis. His friends/romantic interests are all quirky oddballs (of course). So far pretty standard early-twenties stuff. Except then it goes all Sopranos. Yes, his dad is a noted mobster. And one of his friends is a low-level enforcer. It displeases dear ol’ dad that he’s associating with such a lowlife. Etcetera. So it ends up kind of surreal. Which may or may not float your boat, but there it is.
As for the comparisons to CitR… I didn’t really find this to be a coming-of-age story so much as an “ordinary person in improbable situation” story. Like Nancy Botwin in Weeds. Except not as deep and with less-interesting characters (esp. the female ones).
In conclusion, I’m not buying the Literary God rhetoric, but I still want to read Wonder Boys.
I was interested in this b/c I saw the movie trailer and I thought “Hey, Pittsburgh. Let’s see what the book is like.” But all the reviews I read agree w/ your assessment. I’d rather reread a Tawni O’Dell book. At least she gets the area right. I recommend them, if you haven’t read already 😉
There’s a movie? *looks* Oh, so there is. A new movie even.
Anyhow, yeah, the title is kind of misleading. It didn’t seem like I was getting a real feel for Pittsburgh, if that’s what you’re looking for. The setting was pretty tertiary to everything else.