Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

I'd read and loved Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and I grew up in Pittsburgh so I thought this would be a slamdunk. Like one of Chabon's other novel Wonder Boys, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh focuses its story on three male characters--one straight and messed up, one gay and messed up and one who's not quite sure--and messed up. Both Wonder Boys (which admittedly I haven't READ, but instead watched the wonderful movie version) and Mysteries tell their stories via one main protagonist. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, however, focuses on two main characters and switches back and forth between their different points of view.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is Chabon's first novel and is littered with thematic elements that will appear in both Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys: male friendships, homosexuality, fractured families, tortured artists, indecision and finally, growing up and getting on with it. Both Mysteries and Wonder Boys are set in Pittsburgh (which becomes a character in and of itself) where Chabon earned his undergraduate degree. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is set in New York City.

Chabon, now married with four children, was quoted in the New York Review of Books about The Mysteries of Pittsburgh saying:

I had just been through, in the years preceding my decampment for the West, a pair of summers that had rattled my nerves and rocked my soul and shook my sense of self - but in a good way. I had drunk a lot, and smoked a lot, and listened to a ton of great music, and talked way too much about all of those activities, and about talking about those activities. I had slept with one man whom I loved, and learned to love another man so much that it would never have occurred to me to want to sleep with him. I had seen things and gone places in and around Pittsburgh, during those summers, that had shocked the innocent, pale, freckled Fitzgerald who lived in the great blank Minnesota of my heart.
That gives you a sense of the book's essence and its themes. Unfortunately, Chabon's elegy on coming of age and loss of innocence may have been mangled beyond recognition by Marshall Rawson Thurber (Dodgeball) who scripted the adaptation and directs the movie version. A quick peek at the IMDB credits shows the elimination of one of novel's major characters. Of the three male main characters, Thurber has cut it down to only two--and one has been completely changed to take on the missing characteristics of the eliminated character. I found a thoughtful review of the script online and now I'm not sure I want to see the movie. Thankfully, Chabon is doing his own adaptation for the Pulitzer Prize winning The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Whew!


  1. Hey, there!

    I'm the moderator of the official MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH Film Boycott... Check it out at http:www/

    I've also got a copy of the screenplay if you'd like to read it... Email me: bechstein[at]yahoo[dot]com

    PS--I supplied the copy to filmick for the review you read!

    --Frank Anthony Polito,
    2006 Carnegie Mellon grad (MFA Dramatic Writing)

  2. Frank,

    A CMU grad--I'm impressed!

    All I can say is I certainly hope that Chabon's adaptation of Kavalier and Clay doesn't end up like Mysteries. That's one of my all-time favorite books and I'd hate to see it #$% up.