This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon
This novel takes place over one eventful summer after Art Bechstein graduates from college. Bechstein spends the book struggling with his relationship with his father, exploring his sexual identity, and trying to come to terms with his mother’s untimely death, all while working through the common problem of a recent grad figuring out what to do with his life. But I have to say I didn’t really like the book overall. In some ways it’s a coming-of-age novel about a transformative time in a young person’s life, but the thing I couldn’t quite get behind is that while a lot of “stuff” happens to Art during the novel, he doesn’t actually seem to change or grow at all over the course of the book. There’s no real resolution with any of his problems; he instead chooses avoidance and an immature type of self reliance that doesn’t encourage relationships of any kind in his life. Kind of a bleak way to look at “growing up” if you ask me.
That said, though, it was a great pick for the 50Nifty list because so much of the actual city of Pittsburgh was referenced. Certain neighborhoods and locations in and around the city played major roles in the writing, and for that reason, it was a good pick. I felt like I knew the city better by reading the book, and could imagine how the different settings (posh houses, tenements, parks, factories) might have looked and felt, so there’s that!