Book review: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Quick’s debut novel is a brilliant inceptive; a gifted work. It is told in the voice of the main character, thirty-something former teacher Pat, a mental patient who has just been released from a psychiatric facility into his parents care. The use of Pat’s voice for narration is inspired. His childlike utterances are both frank and funny. The author brings the reader inside the jumbled mind of a recovering psychotic who thinks in absolutes and idiosyncrasies. His prominent absolute is his belief in the silver linings that his mother told him about as a child. Pat believes that everything in his life will turn out right if he focuses on improving his mind, keeping fit and being kind (“…kind instead of right”). He sees his life as a real-time movie, playing out to his anticipated ‘Hollywood’ happy ending.
His focal fixate is getting his wife Nikki back but he is prohibited from contact with her by court order. Enter Tiffany, a young widow with her own mental baggage (and agenda) who offers to help him in his quest for Nikki in return for a favor – she needs him to partner her in a dance competition. She has observed him training and considers him physically suitable for her demanding choreography. As they practice for the event we are drawn deeper into the principal characters and their families. Pat’s caring mother is counter-balanced by a father who is emotionally numbed by his son’s illness and ignores him. The barrier between father and son can be eased somewhat by their common allegiance to the local football team and the reader is given a passing education in the frenzied culture of the American National Football League. Tiffany’s family protect her secrets as they try to protect her from herself.
The curtains of Pat’s life slowly draw open to reveal the forgotten genesis of his mental condition. This emergence also alludes to his growing recovery and while Tiffany’s dance therapy has a healing effect on her, both still have their demons to deal with.
Unlike the movie, this is a book about the experiences of the mentally ill and people who touch their lives. It is about flawed people – including ones without mental health conditions. It has the blended bitter-sweetness of being poignant, funny, sad and aspirational. Quick – an English teacher – has written fluidly in language that is easy to read and the chapters are kept short. The plot includes suspense and there are a number of unexpected revelations. Far from romantic, the book suggests a relationship between two people that is based on tenderness, need and compatibility.
There are some parallels with Mark Haddon’s lovely, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. Readers who recognize the ‘unreliable narrator’ style will feel right at home.