Tonawanda News

January 21, 2013

BOOK NOOK: 'Silver Linings' enjoyable, language a distraction

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — For an ardent reader, listening to your first audiobook can be a little jarring.

I’m not sure how things go in the audiobook world, but I’m thinking choosing “Silver Linings Playbook” as my first might not have been a great idea. Or maybe I just don’t like audiobooks; who knows? But when you’re staring down 20 hours of driving across the country, you gotta do something to keep your mind awake and occupied. 

Unfortunately, I chose a book that was a bit monotone, broken up only by the male narrator’s attempt at female voices, which had me visualizing drag queens.

That said, I did my best to keep my dislike of the format in check when reviewing this 2008 offering by Matthew Quick, but I would have been remiss not to mention it.

Quick’s tale of Pat Peoples, a 30-something former history teacher just returning to live with his parents in New Jersey after treatment in a neural health facility, came to my attention with the release last month of a film by the same name.

Put simply, Pat is obsessed.

“With what?” you may ask. Well, with Nikki, his estranged wife, for starters. But also working out to become trim and fit for Nikki, reading classic American literature to make Nikki — a high school English teacher — happy, and the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the few things he’s interested in that has nothing to do with winning back Nikki.

At one point, the reader — or listener, in my case — becomes aware that due to either mental illness or brain injury (it’s not clear), Pat now views the world in a very child-like way. 

Every choice he makes in life boils down to whether it will please Nikki. Thoughts, actions, words are either good or bad, will either help him win back Nikki or not. 

It’s that motivation that leads Pat to agree to participate in what the trailer for the film would have viewers believe is the main purpose of the story: a dance competition. After meeting Tiffany, a friend’s sister who is equally as unhinged, he is convinced to help her win a dance competition in exchange for help in winning back Nikki. 

My biggest complaint — and it’s not all that much of a complaint — is the book’s diction. It’s a first-person narrative that, aside from the content, could be written by a 12-year-old. The language is at times stilted, almost as if you’re reading a middle-schooler’s essay on how to win the love and affection of a woman, and the importance of believing in happy endings. Run-on sentences reign supreme.

The neural health facility is “the bad place,” and his separation from Nikki is “apart time.” 

When he returns home, he believes his mother’s story of how a burglar stole all the framed photos in the house and she wasn’t able to replace the ones from his and Nikki’s wedding because she didn’t have the negatives.

“I ask why a burglar would want pictures of Nikki and me, and my mother says she puts all of her pictures in very expensive frames. ‘Why didn’t the burglar steal the rest of the family pictures?’ I ask. Mom says the burglar stole all the expensive frames, but she had the negatives for the family portraits and had them replaced.

“I tell my mother that if that burglar comes back, I’ll break his kneecaps and beat him within an inch of his life, and she says, ‘I believe you would.’ “

The language is at once annoying and charming. It serves its purpose, and for that, I appreciate it, but it’s a little like reading a book in which the characters’ accents are phonetically spelled out. A bit distracting. 

In the end I enjoyed the book and didn’t find it too surprising to see that Quick’s other works are all young adult novels. It’s a quick read ... I think. It was only seven hours long in audiobook and every other book I considered was at least twice as long. 

Pick up a copy, or download the audio, then see the film, just recently nominated for a whole slew of Oscars. Just don’t expect it to be a typical rom-com about dancing. Sigh ... trailers. ...

• WHAT: "Silver Linings Playbook" • BY: Matthew Quick • GRADE: B+

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.