I have a whole Michael Chabon thing. I loved loved loved watching, then reading Wonder Boys when I was in high school. And then when The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay came out when I was in college, I read it in one or two fell swoops on a rain day from a summer job.
I have been drinking up the rest of his novels since. I liked The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, kind of liked his nonfiction and YA novels, and thought his newest Moonglow was very good.
So I have been avoiding The Mysteries of Pittsburgh for a few reasons. Early novels are fraught…I was worried the social issues contained in it wouldn’t work…and I didn’t trust it.
Here’s the issue: it’s two different novels, but given short shrift. One still works, about a young man just graduating from college who’s trying to figure out who he is sexually and leaving a damaged wake along the path. The second doesn’t, about a young man with a criminal for a father trying to figure out how to be himself in the world. Together they’re an absolute mess.
There’s no particular reason for this novel to take place in Pittsburgh, and so to act like Pittsburgh is one of the characters falls flat. There’s no reason for Art to have a criminal for a father in a novel about him figuring out his sexuality, and really nothing about the life of the criminal has any more bearing or influence on his life that having rich parents wouldn’t already cover. And so the work that would have been required to knit those stories together in a novel that makes sense has just not been put into this, and I suspect at the time Michael Chabon just wasn’t capable of it.