Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Mysteries of Pretentious, Self-Indulged People

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

I enjoyed Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and I also liked the movie Wonderboys, based on his second novel. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was recently adapted into a movie, and I heard it was rather good, so I ordered his first novel. After reading it, I think it could make for a good movie, but as a novel, I couldn't get into it.

There were some very well-written and amusing passages, such as his description of female French majors (definitely a stereotype, but he even opens the paragraph with the disclaimer that he has "an ugly fondness for generalizations" (96)):
She has been betrayed into the study of French, heedless of the terrible consequences, by her enchantment with this language, which has ruined more young American women than any other foreign language ... if her studies were confined simply to grammar and vocabulary, then perhaps the French major would develop no differently from those who study Spanish or German, but the unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French Literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind. (96)
The problem I had was with the characters - they just seemed like a bunch of spoiled brats. The narrator, Art, is mostly a nice guy, but he's not doing anything with his life - he has just graduated college, and is spending his last summer chilling. Fine, but there's no indication that he has any plans once the summer is over - I found that slightly obnoxious and definitely understood his father's concerns. Phlox, one of two prominent woman characters, is a raging homophobe, and the aforementioned crazy French major - Art's descriptions of her in the beginning make her sound so unappealing and odd that I didn't quite understand the sudden attraction between them. And then there is Cleveland. In his last summer of freedom, Art has met a new group of people and friends, and quickly developed close ties to them all. They are all fascinated by the character Cleveland, who is apparently larger than life - personally, I didn't see the appeal behind him. He is the cause of many a past adventure, but by the time he appears in the novel, he's already on a decline, and just loud, boisterous, and reckless.

Of course, it might just be that I can't quite relate to these people - I wouldn't declare my love for someone after less than three months, which these characters constantly do, and while I have on occasion become fast friends with someone, the way Art becomes completely engrossed in these strangers' lives in such a short time doesn't make sense to me. One of the blurbs says that it is a novel about friendship, but the friendships didn't ring true to me, or at least, Art's role in them didn't.

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