Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Silver Linings Playbook" by Matthew Quick

I suppose the terms "beach read" and "summer blockbuster" have similar connotations in individuals' minds: entertainment that's fun and enjoyable while it lasts but is also a bit thin once scratched below the surface. It doesn't hold up in retrospection. By that definition, I'd include Silver Linings Playbook in the same genre as summer films like Transformers or Iron Man. Not because Silver Linings has great action sequences or robots, but because it left me with similar feelings once it was done.

Silver Linings follows Pat Peoples, newly released from a mental institution. He's determined to get back his wife, Nikki, who left him after some incident which prompted the incarceration, even though everyone else is determined for Pat to move on. Soon he meets Tiffany, a similarly mentally troubled woman, and an odd friendship forms.

Pat's narration often sounds like it's coming from a mentally retarded teenager (and I mean that seriously, not as a joke/insult). He uses terms like "apart time" to describe his separation from his wife and "bad place" to describe his institutionalization. Though I understand that he's had some sort of psychotic break and now has selective amnesia and is medicated, I guess that wasn't enough, for me, to explain why he speaks and thinks like a simpleton. Sure, he's in denial about his past, and especially about his relationship with Nikki, but would he then view the entire world through "MR teenager" eyes?

The book seems mostly focused on recording its characters' quirks, much like The Elephant Keepers' Children, rather than making the characters actual people. Pat exercises obsessively and is terrified of Kenny G. Though the book spends significant time chronicling his efforts to get fit to impress Nikki, all the detail just didn't go anywhere. Okay, his exercising shows his misguided thinking (assuming Nikki's separation from him stems from his personal appearance), but that seemed to be the only reason it was there. Or take Tiffany's obsession with winning a dance competition. Again, I suppose it shows some of her character, but they practice dancing a lot, and then they dance really well, and then.... so what? It seemed to lead to nothing. Some of these traits might seem more appropriate in a movie, where randomness can come off as cute rather than just, well, random.

Truthfully, Pat's father, a reticent man who communicates only through his enthusiasm for the Eagles and whose moods are entirely dependent on the Eagles' season, is a far more interesting character than either of the leads. If there's anyone who truly needs help, it's him, and not surprisingly, he has the least cliche ending.

So I have a lot to criticize about the book. But, as I alluded to at the beginning, it was an enjoyable and quick read, and I never felt reluctant to pick up the book again. In fact, I read through the latter half in one long sitting. Recommended for those times when you need a break from "heavy" fiction and don't want to think about the book too much afterwards.


  1. I saw the film version and have no desire to pick up the book (and I assume there are some similarities between the two, though I know enough about the adaptation process to expect there were some big changes). I had several friends describe the film to me as a 'romantic comedy' and I had to laugh. It's really a film about three very disturbed individuals... the only one for whom I felt lingering interest was the father (same as your feelings about the book). *le sigh*

  2. Huh, that's too bad. I'd been hoping the movie would make the book better. Guess I'll just re-enjoy Jennifer Lawrence from Hunger Games instead!