"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" was Michael Chabon's first novel, and it certainly feels like it.
The writing is delicate, well-considered, and just a bit precious. The epic, pitch-perfect sentences that color "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" are nowhere to be found in "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh." The story is standard novice-novelist fare: A sweetly nostalgiac coming of age story, with an obligatory crisis of sexuality. The book's biggest strength is in its characters. They're strong and memorable, and the conversations between them hint at the flair for whip-smart dialogue that is so prevalent and effortless in Chabon's later works it's easy to take for granted. A few of the characters pop up, albeit in different skins, with different context, in "The Amazing Adventures of Kavlier & Clay" and "Wonder Boys."
"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" is a very enjoyable book. The characters ring true, and the story, though it tends toward stasis, is one of the best of its kind. For fans of Chabon, it highlights just how much he's grown as a writer and storyteller. It's profound in a subtle, understated way, and while it is hardly as masterful as the novels that would follow it, it's a solid, pretty, consistent effort from one of modern fiction's greatest writers.