Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #04: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I tend to gravitate towards non-fiction books. Reading literature in school involved so much analysis; I got to a point after my last literature class where I felt I didn’t know how to read fiction on my own, without a guide or a discussion around it to try to find the ‘deeper’ meaning. What’s the point of picking up a classic if I’m going to miss all of the nuance?

On occasion, however, a work of fiction sounds interesting and I’m willing to give it a whirl. Generally speaking I’ve been lucky with my picks – and “Silver Linings Playbook” continues that lucky streak. If you’ve not yet read it, and can get past the idea of picturing the dude from “The Hangover” and Katniss Everdeen in the main roles, I think you’ll find you’re in for a quick but satisfying read.  I read it in three days and found I was disappointed not in the ending, but in the fact that it was done. This is a book that had me thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it, and wanting to get back to it when I was doing other things.

We meet the protagonist Pat briefly in a psychiatric facility. His perspective is the one we experience throughout the novel; it’s a first person narrative that usually works. Pat consistently refers to the facility as the ‘bad place,’ which is one of the turns of phrase author Matthew Quick uses to lead us to think that there’s something a little off about Pat. That phrase, along with Pat insisting on referring to his separation from his wife as ‘apart time,’ were really the only things about the book that consistently bothered me. I think I get what Quick was going for, but the phrases really just pulled me out of the story. Thankfully, I was able to get past that and enjoy the writing, but I do wish Quick had found another way to demonstrate the developmental pause the character seems to have taken.

Pat has been sprung from the mental health facility by his mother, who has arranged for Pat to live back home with her and her inattentive, Eagles football-obsessed husband. Pat is focused on staying in amazing physical shape and acting kindly so that he can win back his wife Nikki. Clearly we get the sense that something is wrong with his assumption that he has any chance getting back with Nikki; he even repeatedly admits to himself that he treated her poorly. However, it’s clear that there’s more to that story, and over the course of the novel we find out, for the most part, what’s really going on.

To try to help bring Pat back into the outside world, Pat’s friend Robbie reintroduces him to Tiffany, who is working through her own mental health issues. She’s a young widow who rarely speaks but, when she does, chooses the fewest words necessary to get her point across. She’s blunt, a little socially awkward, and possibly interested in Pat. Pat wants nothing to do with her but, due to some clever work on her part, is pulled into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Given their respective circumstances, it could have been so easy for the author to lead us to pity them. And perhaps some readers will feel that emotion as they get to know their stories. For me, I felt more empathy and a little bit of hope as the novel progressed. Quick does a great job of showing honest emotions without begging the reader to cry or just feel so darned sorry for them. The characters are flawed, but from my perspective they are flawed in realistic ways. They could be our friends, and that helps make the connection to their plights more real.

Finally, the book has a resolution that is incomplete, although not frustratingly so. I’m warning you now: not every storyline is wrapped up at the end. The author doesn’t end it all with a knock on a door followed by a fade to black what-will-happen-next scene (I’m looking at you, ‘Sideways,’), but he doesn’t give us an epilogue or address every relationship that has formed or broken throughout the story. I enjoy that – I don’t need a totally messy ending, but I do like one in which it is expected that the characters will still go on and have struggles to face and issues to resolve.

I know I’m only a few weeks in, but so far this year this is my favorite. If I can keep finding novels like this one, I just might have to put some of the non-fiction books on my reading list on hold.

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