Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 744 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Art Bechstein is a drifting young Jewish man in conflict with both his sexuality and his father, Joe Bechstein, a widowed gangster. They meet for lunch while Joe is visiting Pittsburgh on business. Art is uncomfortable with his father’s work and keeps it a secret from everyone in his life; in turn, Joe is puzzled and dismayed by his son’s choices. The two men struggle to relate to one another.
Art has just finished college. On a final trip to the library, he meets Arthur Lecomte, a handsome, sophisticated young man. Art immediately identifies Arthur as gay and strains to appear comfortable with that fact. Their impromptu conversation turns into a long drunken evening that ends at a house party. There, Art is introduced to Jane Bellwether, who is dating Arthur’s best friend Cleveland. She and Arthur swap stories about Cleveland, who is an adventurous and unpredictable alcoholic. Arthur is clearly attracted to Art, who deflects the attention by asking about Phlox, a beautiful girl who works with Arthur.
A few days later, Art’s shift at Boardwalk Books is interrupted by the appearance of a large, leather-clad biker who forces Art away from work by mentioning his gangster father. After the two speed off on his motorcycle, the man reveals himself to be Cleveland and tells Art that he works as a debt collector for Uncle Lenny, one of Joe’s underlings. They find Arthur and spend the night drinking, after which Arthur tries to kiss Art but...
(The entire section is 872 words.)