Pittsburgh Native Anthony Breznican Writes his First Novel set in Western Pennsylvania

Jul 11, 2014

First time novelist, Anthony Breznican, is a Pittsburgh native and his first novel is set in a Catholic school in Pittsburgh.
Credit Breznican

Watch any movie about friends reuniting and it’s a near guarantee one of the characters will be a writer.

With Anthony Breznican it’s a case of life imitating art. The senior writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine came home to Pittsburgh for a high school reunion, which coincides with the release of his first novel, Brutal Youth.

The story is inspired by Favorite Hour, an Elvis Costello song that was released in 1994, the year Breznican graduated high school.

The story is set at a crumbling, Catholic high school in Western Pennsylvania called St. Michael the Archangel. The school is a dumping ground for troubled kids and for kids of protective parents who are trying to shelter them from public school.

Breznican said that this ironic combination creates "sort of a perfect Darwinist mix of survival of the fittest."

Between these groups, the book shows the two different types of people in difficult situations.

"There are some people who reach down their hands to help you out and there are some people who reach down their hands to push you a little lower, push themselves up."

One of the things that Breznican said people note after reading the novel is that there is not one single character that is completely good or bad. Breznican said his wife's reaction after reading the book showed the complexity of the novel's characters.

"She said, 'It's funny, there are characters I'm rooting for them to get their comeuppance and then they finally do. And right before you let that happen, you make me feel bad for them.' And I thought that's a good story."

This complexity is shown in the setting as well. Breznican thinks Pittsburgh is the perfect setting because of its tough culture but also because the people of Pittsburgh know they need help sometimes.

"We're people who know what it's like to work hard, to not have things come easy to us. We've been buffeted by forces that we can't control (economic wise, otherwise, and weather wise). We're people who know what that means, that phrase pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But we also know you can't always do that, sometimes you need someone to reach down, bootstraps aren't enough, you need a hand."