Art Bechstein, whose mind is the source of the narrative consciousness of the novel, is the focus of the story. It is essential that he immediately and powerfully control the attention, curiosity, and sympathy of the reader. His compelling blend of aspiration and yearning, held just beneath a protective shield of studied sophistication, is established through a control of tone and language that recalls the singular voices created for Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, other young men uncertain about the survival of their integrity as they enter a menacing world of adult demands and entrapment.
The mysteries of Pittsburgh that Art engages are the mysteries of existence, and the tentativeness and hesitancy of Art’s explorations, both within the city and within his psyche, are testament to the candor of his accounts. Because everything is presented through Art’s perspective, it is crucial that his judgments are conveyed with complete sincerity, so that even when he is clearly mistaken, his honesty remains unquestioned.
Despite his concentration in economics, which he refers to as “a sad and cynical major,” and his distaste for the library, Art cultivates the sensibility of a literate outsider and is susceptible to the lure of Arthur Lecomte and Cleveland Arning. They appear to be of a world diametrically opposed to that of his father, which demands prudence and control. Although Art gradually discovers that...
(The entire section is 480 words.)