I haven’t seen the film and probably won’t, but that said, I enjoyed the book for its creative, sometimes even funny, approach to the rather unfunny subject of mental illness. The protagonist Pat has just been sprung by his mother after 2 years—he thinks it’s been a few months–in a mental institution, a.k.a “the bad place,” and is back home living with his parents at the age of 30 and trying to recover his memory. Specifically, he can’t remember why his marriage with wife Nikki ended, but he is determined to win her back by living more respectfully and kindly toward others, getting in shape through obsessive 10-hour daily workouts, reading classic books that Nikki taught in her high school classes, and looking for the silver lining in all things. He sees his life as a kind of a movie, guaranteed to have the happy ending of reconciliation with Nikki. The problem is that everyone knows the truth about Pat and Nikki … except Pat (and the reader, of course).
Pat’s father chooses to ignore Pat’s existence, eating apart from his wife and son, refusing to speak to him, and verbally abusing his wife at every opportunity. Pat’s mother is supportive and loving, but hides all of Nikki and Pat’s wedding pictures and puts up with her husband’s abuse far too long. Pat’s weekly visits with his psychiatrist are a hoot, and the unconventional therapist makes more inroads through his out-of-office encounters with Pat than during his couch sessions. Pat’s friend and neighbor Ronnie tries to set him up with his mentally unbalanced sister-in-law Tiffany, but Pat is focused solely on winning Nikki back, and he views his strangely evolving friendship with Tiffany as a means to that end.
Interestingly enough, the mental illness that disturbed me more than Pat’s was his bipolar father’s, whose drastic mood swings are hysterically, but perhaps not uncommonly, triggered by the victories and losses of his favorite football team. Indeed, the whole football “culture” with which the author saturates his book and all of the characters in it was, I hope, a deliberate effort on Quick’s part to poke serious fun at our population’s puerile obsession with organized sports. But then I read somewhere that Quick himself is a fanatic football fan, so perhaps that’s just my wishful thinking.
There were a number of weaknesses in the novel, however, which dropped it from a “4” to a “3” for me. First, the inexplicably childish quality of our hero who, we learn, had been a high school teacher before. Also, the ridiculously convoluted means by which Tiffany manipulates Pat into finally letting Nikki go and discovering Tiffany as a potential love interest. I was happy that, in the end, Pat was able to get some kind of closure with his past, so that he could begin to heal himself, but Tiffany’s playbook for winning Pat could just as easily have backfired and sent Pat back to the funny farm.