Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"The Silver Linings Playbook" by Matthew Quick

Pat Peoples has been sprung by his mother from the bad place, and he couldn't be happier. Well, he will be happier when apart time is over and he reunites with his wife, Nikki. He is now the man he thinks she wants him to be and he's very anxious to be with her again. Of course, now that he is not in the bad place anymore, things seem very different at home; none of his family will talk about Nikki and all his wedding photos were stolen. His friends all seem to have families, including children. Worst of all, there are players on the Philadelphia Eagles team that he doesn't recognize and others who have evidently left the team. If only a few months have gone by, how can all these things be true?

Thus starts off the funny yet serious debut novel by Quick. Pat, of course, has been in "the bad place" for more than a few months; he's actually been committed to the neural health facility for about four years. He has no memory of how he ended up there, only knowing that there must have been a reason for it, and hoping that now that he is home, "apart time" will be over and he can get on with his life with his wife. You can tell that something is very, very wrong with this picture, though - Pat's mom won't talk about Nikki, only telling him that all the wedding pictures were stolen and that she doesn't have the negatives to get more. His brother won't talk about Nikki, either. In fact, the only person who will discuss Nikki is the sister-in-law of Ronnie, one of Pat's friends. Tiffany has her own problems, though, and she might just make Pat's worse.

So this is a love story, right? Well, yes, but not really about Pat and Nikki, even though it seems to be. I would say it's a love story about football; the Eagles play a huge roll in the book. Pat starts to come out of his shell after his brother gives him a Hank Baskett jersey at the beginning of the season, and he's scored tickets to the home games, too. Pat joins his brother, Ronnie, and "the fat men" for tailgating and some male bonding. His therapist, Cliff, later shows up at the home games, too, with his friends, the Asian Invasion (50 asian men, all Eagles fans, who show up on an enormous bus painted as - you got it - the Asian Invasion). Cliff is interesting guy; he's Pat's therapist when they're in the recliners at the office, but once out of the chairs, Cliff insists that he's Pat's friend and a fellow Eagles fan. Pat's dad is what one would think of as sane, yet his entire mood, and his willingness to interact with his mental-case son, all hinge on the success of the Eagles. There's a lot of football involved, and I now know some of the Eagles chants and players (I'm fairly certain that Quick used real football cheers/players/etc for the book; fans get very peeved when you make things up). The Eagles play a big part in Pat regaining some of his sanity and his previous life, and allow him to bond with his family.

The only person who doesn't like football in the book is Tiffany, which may or may not be significant. She also has what appears to be a crush on Pat, running behind him on his workouts, almost stalking him in a way. And in her own warped way, Tiffany tries to help Pat move on from his obsession with Nikki, something that is only likely to happen if Pat can remember why he went to the bad place. Tiffany is also suffering from mental illness and depression after the death of her husband. They seem to bring out the best in each other, but at the end of the book, I wasn't entirely sure that it was a romantic thing after all. I think they just needed each other as friends.

I really enjoyed this very different read. I'm hoping that Mr. Quick will continue his work as a novelist, and even though I'm fairly certain this is stand-alone work, I wouldn't mind visiting with Pat and the Asian Invasion somewhere down the road. As the Eagles fans say, "AHHHHHHH!"

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