Saturday, 7 April 2012

Wearing altogether too many bits and pieces

the book:

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

published 1988 chapter 4






[Art Bechstein is visiting his friend at the University Library, and is hoping to see there a young woman he fancies]

I got a good look at her.

She wore, today, several layers of red and white, T-shirts mostly, with a skirt here or there, and many different kerchiefs and bracelets… I slipped past and headed down the hallway to Arthur’s section. I remembered he’d said that she was punk, but her demeanour and her neatness were not, and she clearly placed an unpunklike emphasis on looking somewhat traditionally feminine, pink fingernails and ribbon. I wondered what she was, if not a punk…

On the way out, of course, we came upon Phlox, drinking from the fountain in the hall. She had to place a protective hand above her breast to keep all the gear she wore around her neck from getting into the stream of water when she bent over… She straightened and turned to face us. Her eyes, in the middle of all that hair and scarf, were the bluest I had ever seen… 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…

observations:
Michael Chabon has to be one of the finest authors writing in English today, but Phlox, one of the main characters in this, his first book, cannot be judged a success, apart from having the ugliest name in any novel that comes to mind. But the book is otherwise great: a recognizable picture of a long hot summer after finishing college, before real life kicks in – even if you have never been in Pittsburgh, didn’t go to college, and are not the son of a gangster. The book is full of nice lines, like: ‘Well, unhappy families may each be unhappy after their own fashion, but their houses are always alike, at least in my experience.’ Chabon went on to write the wonderful Wonder Boys, and the amazing Yiddish Policemen’s Union, amongst other things.

There is a very strange and not wholly successful 2008
film of Mysteries of Pittsburgh, worth seeing for Nick Nolte’s performance as Art’s father.
Links up with this blog entry - Lucky Jim and Art Bechstein each critical of a date's wardrobe.
The picture is from George Eastman House, another of the Lucky Strike women, and is on
Flickr.

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