Michael Chabon is the M. Night Shyamalan of American literary fiction. You read or see one, you've read or seen them all. While viewers of a Shyamalan film expect some "twist" that will (attempt to) make them reconsider the entire film, Chabon's readers can count on one character wrestling with and having an epiphany about his non-normative sexuality. And a lot of crying.
Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, received tremendous acclaim. Of the novel, poet Carolyn Forche wrote, "Simply the best novel I've read in years....It will takes its place beside On the Road and Catcher in the Rye," while in its reviews of the Playboy magazine repeatedly compared Chabon to F.Scott Fitzgerald and the novel to Gatsby.1
He was heralded by the gay community for the book, but what made this novel so groundbreaking became the hook upon which he hung Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, so one wonders if Chabon was just savvy, trying to corner a market, with Mysteries.
This year will see the release of the film adaptation of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and while the novel is a great first novel, the film-makers have decided to basically rewrite the whole thing, excising what is most interesting about the novel. Bravo.
Throughout the novel, the protagonist Art Bechstein is pulled between Phlox Lombardi (Mena Suvari), a kind-of-femme-fatale, and Arthur LeComte, a gay man whom he meets in the library. Another storyline follows the character of Cleveland Arning (Peter Sarsgaard2), a hero who is crashing, but the emotional freight of the work is Bechstein's attempt to understand his sexuality.
The film makers have decided, apparently, that the character of Arthur LeComte was superfluous, that he somehow got in the way of the real story, when in the novel LeComte pulls the strings on almost every event that takes place. A LeComte-less film can only mean that the screenplay takes tremendous liberties with everything else: LeComte introduces Bechstein to Phlox, LeComte introduces Bechstein to Jane Bellweather (Sienna Miller), LeComte has been a lifelong friend of Cleveland. These people would never know one another without LeComte.
A quick look at MysteriesofPittsburgh.com tells you all you need to know: the introductory scene is set at a punk show (not in the novel), which one assumes will draw Bechstein, Phlox, Jane, and Cleveland together. When and where this revision will end is anyone's guess.
One wonders how well Chabon has taken to this treatment of his work. To loosely paraphrase Hemingway, when a novel is adapted into a film, the novelist drives past the studio, throws the novel over the wall, catches the sack of money thrown back, and then drives off. Although maybe Chabon's just happy to see one of his stories play out with what has become his stock gimmick.
1 Playboy is pretty close to truth, in that Chabon lifts so much directly from Gatsby. See Gatsby's Jordan Baker, the female professional golfer that captures Nick's attention, and Mysteries' Jane Bellweather, who Art first sees driving golf balls.
2Spellcheck wanted to correct "Sarsgaard" to "rearguard."
[Note: Because every website is currently running an article about Sienna Miller, this film came to mind. When I checked imdb.com and the official website to see the full cast, I saw the absence of Arthur ~ Ed.]