The Mysteries of Pittsburgh follows Art Bechstein, the narrator, from the time of his graduation from college through a summer. During those months, the direction of his life is determined, through a series of intense, interlocking relationships with three other young people.
As the narration begins, Art is particularly vulnerable. He is without the structure provided by his educational experiences, faces the unappealing prospect of becoming part of the adult world of responsibility, and sees the possibility of a fulfilling existence as vague and elusive. His sense of himself rests on a shifting, unsteady foundation of injunctions from his stern father. He has an ambiguous but insistent inclination to spend this last summer of relative freedom “fluttering ever upward,” but he has no idea of what this would entail, nor of what he needs to learn about himself and the world. He is nevertheless determined to permit “novel and incomprehensible situations” to absorb him. When he is invited to join a group of revelers by an intriguing young man, Arthur Lecomte, he has few qualms about accepting. Arthur’s speech, style of dress, and patterns of pleasure imply excitement. Art does remain wary of Lecomte’s apparent homosexuality but is drawn by its implications of participation in the realm of the forbidden.
The social nexus into which Art is drawn centers on Lecomte and two of his acquaintances, a young woman, Phlox Lombardi, who works in the university library while studying French, and Cleveland Arning, a young man who has been living on the edge of society. Arning is rebellious, courting danger and espousing defiance. Art, who has been a dutiful son guided by the wishes, suggestions, and various forms of subtle coercion exercised by his father, a gangster, finds the unpredictable,...
(The entire section is 744 words.)