Week 8 (Blaga): The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick*

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Reader: Blaga

Topic #10: Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.

Book: The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2008)

*TW: mental illness, suicide

When Pat Peoples, a former high school history teacher and a big Eagles fan, is taken home from the mental institution where he has spent the last four years by his mother, he barely remembers anything that has transpired while he was at “bad place.” What he does know, however, is that he is currently spending “apart time” from his wife Nikki. Pat believes in silver linings, and sees life as a movie, to which he hopes there will be a happy ending as a result of his learning to be kind (“be nice, not right”) and get into shape (he exercises for hours every day). All the while he has to navigate his old world and regain his sense of independence and identity, reconnecting with his sweet mother, his father and younger brother (who are huge Eagles fans), his best friend Ronnie, developing new bonds towards his therapist (also a great Eagles fan) and his best friend’s sister-in-law Tiffany.

I will be honest, I was both excited and cautious when it came to this book. Like many people, I watched the movie before reading the source material, and part of me expected to know exactly how this story would develop. I was also worried about how it would treat the subject of mental illness. I must say that on both counts I was pleasantly surprised. The book is rather different from the movie, and the differences add nuance and depth to the story and keep the reader engaged and curious.

The story is told mostly from Pat’s point of view. His simple voice (almost child-like at times) makes the story a lot more readable, especially when he reflects upon a number of serious subjects, such as mental illness, suicide (briefly, in one chapter), physical violence (briefly), and the distant character of Pat’s father (whose moods are heavily dependent upon the success of the Eagles). Although the pace of the narrative is quick and the tone relatively light, this does not diminish the seriousness of the subjects. I especially appreciated the contrast Quick established between Pat and some of his loved ones on the subject, one example being their (and other Eagles fans’) mockery of a former Eagles player who overdosed on medication. When they present this as a joke and note that the given player makes millions of dollars to endure this reaction from the public, Pat is disturbed, as he sympathizes with the player and wonders how he might truly feel on the inside and whether he has indeed improved. What does this make him, he wonders, as he too is suffering from mental illness and is on medication.

Another instance that stands out. Pat, Ronnie, Ronnie’s wife Veronica, their toddler daughter Emily, and Tiffany all go to the beach. When Tiffany loses her temper, she and her sister leave Ronnie, Pat and Emily alone. Ronnie falls asleep and Pat takes Emily to the water, floating with her on the waves. They return to the beach to Veronica screaming in panic, and fighting with Ronnie for leaving Emily with “him.”  This incident stood out to me for two reasons. On one hand, I felt like I could sympathize with Veronica, who acts out of of concern for her child. on the other hand, throughout the book, both she and Ronnie act as if there is nothing wrong with Pat, while they clearly have their opinions and concerns about him. He has, after all, spent four years in a mental institution and still has to go to therapy and take medication. Yet the pretense is very wrong, and I appreciated the way Quick addressed it.

Quick also pleasantly surprised me through the way he incorporates NFL football into the story. I will admit, I do not watch American football (a soccer fan myself; Go Barcelona!). Although I am somewhat familiar with the rules, I worried about how that would impact my understanding of and relationship to the book. While football is a huge  presence, however, Quick successfully ties it into Pat’s relationships with those closest to him. Even as a non-fan, I could comfortably enjoy the use of football in the book.

The Silver Linings Playbook has gotten a lot of positive and negative reactions – it does seem to be the type of book that would elicit a strong response. Personally, I am glad that I got the chance to read it as part of this challenge. I enjoyed it and found it to be better than its on-screen adaptation. I recommend giving it a chance.

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