Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

I first read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon, oh, I guess, 5 or 6 years ago. Back when I wasn't a whole lot older than the protagonists of the novel, a group of 4 post-college idiots trying to make sense of their lives. Or, more accurately, trying to make sense of their emotions and lustful drives, which fluctuate and change daily.

Art Bechstein, the narrator, is a young man drawn into an intense world of love and sex with both a woman and another man, and does his damnedest to juggle his conflicting emotions and revolving-door of genitalia. It sort of reminds me of a modern update/retelling of Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, except without all the melodrama and there's no gruesome execution at the end.

What I think Mysteries gets right is the sense of wonder, and confusion, at that age, especially regarding sexuality, without claiming to have any answers. For someone who was only 24 (as Chabon was at the time he wrote it), I think it was very wise of him to admit that love and desire are total mysteries, and what you feel is simply what you feel, no matter how much you examine it and turn it over. When you're in the midst of something like a tumultuous relationship, or at the very least a confusing one, the day to day is often all that matters. And the more you think about the future, or the consequences of your actions, the more confused you get.

Considering that the main conflict in Mysteries lies in a young man's inability to choose between a man and a woman, the novel also doesn't deal in a cheap "gay panic." Yes, the main character is conflicted about his budding love for his young gay friend, a feeling he's never particularly felt before, but not because he doesn't want to be gay. He blithely accepts the possibility that he might simply be a homosexual, and that's that; it freaks him out a bit, but no more than I think any 22-year-old gets freaked out about being in love in general.

I've been reading so much non-fiction the last few years that I'd forgotten, I guess, how joyous it can be to just lose yourself in a really great novel. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh broke my heart and made me smile. At a time in my life where I think I take relationships and people's feelings a lot more seriously than I used to, reliving such a carefree time with these characters was a lot of fun, even if it's not a time I would particularly want to revisit in my own life.

I just found out that I guess a movie is being made right now, but judging from the tagline, it appears that it's already been ruined. Too bad. While reading it, I immediately reverted back to my old "filmmaker self" and had wild fantasies about what a great film it would make. Assuming they did it correctly.


zen imbecile said...

Chabon never makes love between two men seem anything other than lovely. :)

I haven't read Mysteries but in Wonder Boys and Kavalier & Klay, that's just how love works for some people.

zen imbecile said...

Shit. Let me rewrite that first sentence:

Chabon never makes it seem like love between two men is anything other than lovely.