Sunday, March 29, 2009


When Arthur Bechstein graduates from his Pittsburgh college, he doesn't have much--no job, no ambition, no specific interests, no family (his mother died when he was very young and his father is a distant and psychologically abusive white-collar gangster), and no romantic history to speak of, having spent the last several years in unrequited love with a girl who just wanted to be roommates. With nothing specific in front of him and a wallet full of his father's ill-begotten money, Arthur decided to fall in with a set of charming dilettantes: a beautiful gay preppy boy, also named Arthur; his best friend from childhood, an alcoholic petty-crimer named Cleveland; Cleveland's girlfriend, Jane; and Phlox, the hypnotic recovering punk Arthur first met in the library.

I liked this book. It was a quick and compelling read. Arthur is a candid narrator, and his earnest and unashamed sexual identity development feels both realistic and (nearly) romantic. I didn't love it, though, to be honest. Perhaps because I've read Michael Chabon in reverse chronological order, it was overly interesting to me to think about how his writing has grown and developed and which seeds have been there all along. In the end, it was a little bit self-celebratory and plotless, and left a lot of ends loose or unexplored. Since his prose styling is so competent, it is an enjoyable read despite.

I bumped this up on my reading list to make sure I'd finished it before the movie came out this summer. I'm really curious to see what they'll do with it.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Whoa. The Tour Manager and I are discussing if that's the actual cloud tower, or whatever it was called. Yep, we're geeks.

Mostly, I wanted to comment that I read this back in undergrad days. I'd heard of Chabon, of course -- I did my undergrad in Pitt's creative writing program, after all. (This was before he hit it big, when Mysteries was still his only novel.)

I had a conference with one of my fiction profs, and noticed a copy of Mysteries on his shelf. I commented about it, about how I hadn't loved the ending, how it was too typical.

Turns out this was the professor who was later widely rumored to be the inspiration for the professor in The Wonder Boys. Oops.

I passed the course with an A minus, however.

Awesome guy, that professor was. He's the one who set me writing novels.

Dana said...

I'll have to add this one to my Chabon love fest. :)

Nicole said...

I have yet to read anything by Chabon. I won this one in a contest and I am looking forward to reading it.

moonrat said...

Susan--how interesting. The trails of real people left all over their MFA programs. Interesting re: the ending. I don't think it bothered me much, although there was a small element of melodrama (eg "I never saw my father again"--but you feel like he's speaking from the very near distance, like two months later, since he doesn't give any indication of what his future has turned into). I was more bothered by things little things, like Phlox's weird behavior and why she forgave him so easily when he told her he'd slept with another woman.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Now I'm going to have to read it again! My undergrad days were a LONG time ago (sigh).

I think part of what bugged me was that it was SO unlike my college experience and yet so familiar at the same time... it was the setting, in part.