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A book that will make you happy
on September 5, 2008
IN The Silver Linings Playbook, Mr. Quick has done something very difficult for literature to do: inspire hope. As the unflinchingly and endearingly honest main character notes, many of the greatest classics in American literature end in despair, or are such thorough condemnations of life as it is that it is difficult sometimes to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The lives of the authors often mirror the grim reality of their novels. Hemingway shoots himself dead with a shotgun and Plath sticks her head into an oven. Pat Peoples' explanation? They never looked up at the clouds at sunset.
It is this simple kind of appreciation for beauty which distinguishes Pat not just from his literary contemporaries, but from all of the other characters in The Silver Linings Playbook itself. He appreciates characters like Hester Prynne and Holden Caulfield who, like himself, hold onto their values and nobility in a harsh world that seems bent on stripping them of everything they hold dear. Though Pat himself is slightly deluded - he is not just on 'apart time' with his wife, there is no 'inevitable reunion' as the first chapter title suggests - his honest, everyman's struggle, epitomized by the apt adage of 'practicing being kind rather than right', against all the forces in the world conspiring to break his hope is so convincing that the reader starts to believe in silver linings himself.
This book will make you happy, though, because of the way it is written. Most of the chapter titles will make you laugh in a different way than the next. Mr. Quick's apt use of detail, allusions, and brilliant comparisons bring the story to life. That a chapter should be called "Like he was Yoda and I was Luke Skywalker training on Dagobah" is a very precious thing. Meanwhile periodic interludes such as advice from Pat's 'black friend Danny', and even the whole introduction of the death of Veterans Stadium as a new thing, bring bits of humor just when the story may seem to be becoming sad. The author has an eye for quirks and intricacies of language and a gift for conveying them in a readable yet still emotional and romantic manner. More than just the ease of identifying with Pat, Mr. Quick's simple, declarative prose, highlighted by brief, nostalgic-filled, almost Hemingway-like sentences, reels in the reader.
Peoples seems to represent the Hemingway ideal of masculinity: courage as grace under pressure. Pat has much grace under pressure. Slips from this grace he deeply regrets, and is always molding himself into a good person, even when no one is watching and no one cares. His entire self-improvement program was aimed towards a person who would never know he had ever changed a bit.
But there is no tragic ending to match this altruistic ideal, as there is in many Hemingway stories. Though there is bad in life, there is good also, and Pat, like his author, knows where to find it.