Pat Peoples is a former high school history teacher who has just returned to live at home with his parents after a four-year stint at a psychiatric hospital. Having little to no recollection of the last four years of his life, Pat must come to terms with the fact that he is now separated from his beloved wife, Nikki, and has missed four years not only of the lives of himself, his friends, and his family, but four seasons of his cherished Philadelphia Eagles. As if this weren’t enough, Pat must rebuild his strained relationship with his father, who won’t even speak to him, help his mother, who is struggling with her own demons, and get to know his brother again, who has grown up and gotten a whole new life in Pat’s absence. In an effort to rationalize this to himself, Pat decides that God has decided to make his life into a movie, and like all movies, his will have a “silver lining” or happy ending, namely in the reconciliation between himself and his wife. All he has to do to find this silver lining is to improve himself both physically and intellectually, and to practice being “kind instead of right.” During his journey to self-improvement, Pat meets Tiffany, a recently widowed young woman with her own host of psychological struggles. Although he’s originally put off and annoyed by Tiffany, Pat comes to realize that she needs him to be “kind instead of right” as much as he needs someone who can understand and empathize with the myriad of obstacles he is struggling through in his attempt to get his life back.
Let me start by saying that I saw this movie shortly after it was released and absolutely adored every freaking second of it. So, imagine my mirth when I found out that this paragon of cinematic excellence was actually based on a book! It was as if the clouds had parted and a choir of angels was singing a sweet melody just for me. Upon this revelation, I began searching incessantly and fruitlessly for what I was sure would be the literary experience of my life thus far. I cannot begin to express to you the sheer, unadulterated joy I felt upon finding this book at my favorite second-hand book place, The Baltimore Book Thing, after I had been searching for it literally for years! This place touts itself as a “warehouse full of unwanted books for those that actually want them.” And boy, did I want, need, HAVE TO HAVE, this book. I’m pretty sure I executed a completely embarrassing, yet fully justified “happy book dance” right in the middle of the aisle. That being said, I’m sad to say I had a number of issues with this novel.
I began reading Silver Linings nearly a week before I finished it. This, in and of itself, is highly unusual for me. I got through the first 30 pages in the first sitting, and through a series of events, found myself procrastinating and finding reasons not to pick it up again until this past Saturday. This was not a difficult read. Once I resigned myself to pick it back up, I actually got through the book rather quickly and easily. My procrastination merely stemmed from the fact that the first 30 pages of the novel irritated me so badly that I had to steel and ready myself to get back to it. I did so on the hope and the prayer that somewhere down the line, somehow, it would get better. Again, I found myself disappointed. So disappointed in fact, that I waited a full 48 hours before writing this review so I could have time to breathe and hopefully formulate a more objective viewpoint, rather than one based on the dashed hopes and dreams of somebody who was excitedly anticipating this novel with every fiber of her being.
My main issue was with the voice of the narrator and main character, Pat Peoples. In an effort to create an unreliable narrator, the author depicts Pat as having bipolar disorder with episodes of uncontrollable rage. Admittedly, I do not have experience with, nor do I know much about bipolar disorder, but I feel that if I did suffer from it, I would be highly offended by the author’s portrayal. And, let’s not even get into Pat’s relationship with his therapist, which is unconventional at best, and an insult to the profession at worst. Rather than coming off as mentally or emotionally disturbed, Pat appears as though he is mentally handicapped. Consequentially, the character presents as more than a little juvenile with thought processes and reactions that are reminiscent of those of a traumatized 10-year-old boy. This is evident not only in his disjointed and often overly-simple internal dialogue, but in his reactions to and relationships with those around him and his life in general.
Pat often refers to his separation from his wife as “Apart time,” which reminded me of a how a young child would refer to and rationalize the separation of his parents, not how a 35 year old man would speak of his separation from his wife. His dogged insistence to anyone who will listen that he will eventually reunite with his wife is alternately endearing and sweet and infuriating and creepy. He also refers to the mental institution from which he has recently been released as “The Bad Place.” As a child, my favorite movie was (and probably still is) Homeward Bound. In this movie, the main character, Chance, an American Bulldog, refers to the pound he was adopted from as “The Bad Place.” I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between these two characters the entire time I was reading this novel. Both characters at times appear dopey and out of touch with the reality of their surroundings and circumstances and often give off a bit of a “derp” vibe. Keep in mind, Homeward Bound is a film for children.
That being said, Silver Linings playbook was Matthew Quick’s first foray outside of the Young Adult world and into the world of Adult Fiction. Unfortunately, this is a fact that is profoundly evident throughout the novel. From the choppy dialogue, to the underdeveloped characters, to Pat’s misguided and childish attempts to rectify his relationship with his father, this book absolutely screams YA, and not well at that. Many young adult novels are chock-full of wonderfully developed characters, dialogue, and themes. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t one of them.
I absolutely detest writing negative reviews, if for no other reason than the fact that I have a profound admiration and respect for the skill, tenacity, and patience it takes to write a novel, much less get it published. Based on plot alone, this book had enormous promise (as evidenced by the fact that it made for a fantastic movie.) With a bit more thought, attention to detail, character development, and research on and understanding of the intended subject matter, it could have been something spectacular. Unfortunately, it fell flat on all of these platforms and was one of the few novels I’ve come across that failed to live up to its cinematic adaptation.