Last modified on 3 August 2014, at 17:03

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1989), the first novel by Michael Chabon, is a coming-of-age tale set during the early 1980s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

  • Then he asked me what my plans were for the summer, and in the flush of some strong emotion or other I said, more or less: It's the beginning of the summer and I'm standing in the lobby of a thousand-story grand hotel, where a bank of elevators a mile long and an endless red row of monkey attendants in gold braid wait to carry me up, up, up through the suites of moguls, of spies, and of starlets, to rush me straight to the zeppelin mooring at the art deco summit, where they kept the huge dirigible of August tied up and bobbing in the high winds. On the way to the shining needle at the top I will wear a lot of neckties. I will buy five or six works of genius on 45 rpm, and perhaps too many times I will find myself looking at the snapped spine of a lemon wedge at the bottom of a drink. I said, "I anticipate a coming season of dilated time and of women all in disarray."
    • Ch. 1, Elevator Going Up
  • There was, however, a last paper on Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fliess, for which I realized I would have to make one exasperating last visit to the library, the dead core of my education, the white, silent kernel of every empty Sunday I had spent trying to ravish the faint charms of the study of economics, my sad, cynical major.
    • Ch. 1, Elevator Going Up
  • My first thirteen years, years of ecstatic, uncomfortable, and speechless curiosity, followed by six months of disaster and disappointment, convinced me somehow that every new friend came equipped with a terrific secret, which one day, deliberately, he would reveal: I need only maintain a discreet, adoring, and fearful silence.
    • Ch. 2, A Free Atom
  • All at once I liked him, his firm grace with others, his unlikely modesty, the exotic parties he attended. The desire to befriend him came over me suddenly and certainly, and, as I debated and decided not to shake his hand again, I thought how suddenness and certainty had attended all my childhood friendships, until that long, miserable moment of puberty during which I'd been afraid to befriend boys and seemingly unable to befriend girls.
    • Ch. 2, A Free Atom
  • He had an effortless genius for manners; remarkable perhaps, just because it was unique among people his age. It seemed to me that Arthur, with his old, strange courtliness, would triumph over any scene he chose to make; that in a world made miserable by frankness, his handsome condescension, his elitism, and his perfect lack of candor were fatal gifts, and I wanted to serve in his corps and to be socially graceful.
    • Ch. 3, Some People Know How to Have a Good Time
  • "What does your father do?" said Jane.
    He manipulates Swiss bank accounts with money that comes from numbers, whores, protection, loan sharks, and cigarette smuggling.
    "He's in finance," I said.
    • Ch. 3, Some People Know How to Have a Good Time
  • My worst nightmare was a boring nightmare, the dream of visiting an empty place where nothing happened, with awful slowness. I would awake tired, with a few unremarkable traces that never seemed to do justice to the dull fear I had felt while still asleep: the memory of the low hum of an electric clock, of an aimless albino hound, of a voice incessantly announcing departure times over a public address system; and that summer, my job was a dream of this sort.
    • Ch. 4, The Cloud Factory
  • She was unquestionably beautiful, and yet there was something odd, wrong, about her looks, her clothing: something a little too, from her too blue eyes in their too direct stare to the too red stockings she wore. It was as though she had studied American notions of beauty from some great distance and had come all this way only to find she had overdone the details: a debutante from another planet.
    • Ch. 4, The Cloud Factory
  • Being up this early made me feel as though I'd been taken to a new part of town, or like a hardened New Yorker who, finally standing atop the Statue of Liberty, cannot spot the water tank on the roof of his building and realizes with a strange delight how big and beyond him his city is.
    • Ch. 5, Invaders
  • The most immediately memorable feature of the decor was the carpeting. A "soothing," embarrassingly synthetic flavor of sky blue, it illuminated the whole floor of the place, like a lit ceiling; and so from my first minute in Jane's house I felt subliminally but undeniably upside down.
    • Ch. 6, Obedience
  • An alcoholic is nothing if not sensitive to the proper time and place for his next drink; his death is one of the most carefully planned and prepared for events in the world.
    • Ch. 7, The Checkpoint
  • Now that Jane was dead at her mother's hand, she was someone else, she was a girl without parents, which is the dream of every young man like Cleveland, if not every young man, period.
    • Ch. 7, The Checkpoint
  • "I'm not saying that I don't believe in God, because I do believe in God, even though it's more branché not to. But do you know what those Christians told me? They told me I would have to learn to live without sex. I can't live without sex, Art. It's ridiculous. If Jesus really loves me, then He wants me to sleep with boys."
    "Amen," I said.
    • Ch. 9, The Heartbreak Thing
  • One night there was an enormous full moon, fat and hanging right above the horizon, as though too debauched and decrepit to rise any farther. We were stoned, and the black Romanesque steeple of the church on the corner stood silhouetted against the moon, entwined with the shapes of branches of a dead tree, like an establishing shot from a vampire film, and I said this. She pressed herself against me, her teeth chattering.
    "Why are you afraid?" I said.
    "I don't know. Because vampires are so beautiful," she said.
    • Ch. 10, Sex and Violence
  • "As long as bars continue to serve pickled eggs," he said, licking his fingers, "there is reason to hope."
    • Cleveland
    • Ch. 10, Sex and Violence
  • I felt happy—or some weak, pretty feeling centered in my stomach, brought on by beer—at the sight of the fading blue sky tormented at its edges with heat lightning, and at the crickets and the shouting over the water, and by Jackie Wilson on the radio, but it was a happiness so like sadness that the next moment I hung my head.
    • Ch. 11, Searchlights and Giant Women
  • An odd contentment came over me. Although the used Sears furniture, the fake Renoir, the cat statue, et cetera, still seemed kind of ugly and in bad taste, I discovered I had made one of those common aesthetic efforts that consists of just swallowing an entire system of bad taste—Las Vegas, or a bowling alley, or Jerry Lewis movies—and then finding it beautiful and fun.
    • Ch. 12, The Evil Love Nurse
  • During the first weeks of July, my life settled into a pattern, which is how one knows that it is July.
    • Ch. 12, The Evil Love Nurse
  • Some compulsiveness inherited from my father, and also a kind of unnecessary delicacy, had always driven me to keep friends separate, to shun group excursions, but for this calm couple of weeks at the eye of the summer I felt free of the guilt that usually accompanied my juggling of friendships, and free of the sense of duplicity that went along with pushing the people I loved into separate corners of my life, and once in a while Phlox, Arthur, and I would eat our lunches on the same patch of grass.
    • Ch. 12, The Evil Love Nurse
  • It is always so simple, and so complicating, to accept an apology.
    • Ch. 13, Pink Eyes
  • As a child, coming home at sunset through the infinite chain of backyards that led from the schoolyard to our house, I would catch glimpses in windows of dining rooms, tables set for supper; of crayon drawings tacked to refrigerators, cartons of milk standing on counters; of feet on low hassocks, framed photographs, and empty sofas, all lit by the bland light of the television; and these quickly shifting tableaux, of strange furniture and the lives and families they divulged, would send me into a trance of curiosity. For a long time I thought that one became a spy in order to watch the houses of other people, to be confronted by the simple, wondrous fact of other kitchens, other clocks, and ottomans.
    • Ch. 15, The Museum of Real Life
  • I saw that I'd been mistaken when I thought of myself as a Wall, because a wall stands between, and holds apart, two places, two worlds, whereas, if anything, I was nothing but a portal, ever widening, along a single obscure corridor that ran all the way from my mother and father to Cleveland, Arthur, and Phlox, from the beautiful Sunday morning on which my mother had abandoned me, to the unimaginable August that now, for the first time, began to loom. And a wall says no; a portal doesn't say anything.
    • Ch. 16, The Casa Del Fear
  • The sky glowed and flashed orange, off toward the mills in the south, as if volcano gods were fighting there or, it seemed to me, as if the end of the world had begun&mdas;it was an orange so tortured and final.
    • Ch. 21, The End of the World
  • Riding on a city bus along the route that you have taken from your job, from the movies, from a hundred Chinese meals, with the same late sun going down over the same peeling buildings and the same hot smell of water in the aftershower air, can be, in the wake of a catastrophe, either a surrealistic nightmare of the ordinary or a plunge into the warm waters of beautiful routine.
    • Ch. 23, Xanadu
  • When I remember that dizzy summer, that dull, stupid, lovely, dire summer, it seems that in those days I ate my lunches, smelled another's skin, noticed a shade of yellow, even simply sat, with greater lust and hopefulness—and that I lusted with greater faith, hoped with greater abandon. The people I loved were celebrities, surrounded by rumor and fanfare; the places I sat with them, movie lots and monuments. No doubt all of this is not true remembrance but the ruinous work of nostalgia, which obliterates the past, and no doubt, as usual, I have exaggerated everything.
    • Ch. 23, Xanadu

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