Pat Peoples comes home from a neural health facility to discover that dysfunction continues to surround him. His emotionally absent father only engages during Eagles games. All the photos of him and his wife, Nikki, are mysteriously ‘stolen’ from the house, and no one will give him a straight answer about it. His therapist encourages his relationship with another woman, while Pat’s still married. And Pat, who believes that his life is a movie directed by God, works to make everything right again.
Matthew Quick’s debut novel wrestles with questions that we don’t often allow ourselves to discuss. What is sanity and insanity? We see the supposedly unstable Pat become deeply uncomfortable with goings-on at Eagles games: the way visiting fans are treated so poorly. It begs the question, What practices in our society are ‘normal’ and never questioned? Quick doesn’t provide an easy answer, but we confront this question through a narrator who is sympathetic, flawed, and desperately trying to gain control over his life.
Pat, who gained weight in his marriage before he was committed, works out religiously. He keeps referring to his life as a movie that God is directing. As the hero of this movie he simply has to be good enough, and things will turn out all right. Again, Quick brings us to a dilemma. As people we want our actions to be karmic. We want good to come to good people, and bad to bad. Pat Peoples believes this is the way the universe works. Yet, we also realize that he isn’t completely connected to reality. Life is not so black and white.
Pat’s struggle with karma makes me question my own beliefs. After countless movies and books and stories telling me that if I am good, good things will come to me, I begin to truly believe it. Yet, it’s so simple and often, so untrue. Terrible trial falls on Pat, and falls on us no matter how hard we try to be good.
Ultimately, however, The Silver Linings Playbook is a story. As readers, we first read for narrative, for the story. Questions come later. And TSLP succeeds. Told in first person present, Pat’s voice is compelling, engaging, moving. Throughout, you root for this flawed and hurting man, not always sure what you want to happen to him, but certainly good. You find in Pat’s honesty a bit of yourself: your own faults and doubts and hopes. You hope to achieve some of what Pat achieves, even for brief moments on a beach:
We float up. We float down. We are so happy. We are so, so happy.