Monday, August 23, 2010

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross — 352 pgs


Book CoverIn this psychological puzzle of a novel, we meet three men with three very different marriages, though oddly, they share many similarities. David Pepin is a video game designer who is married to Alice, a morbidly obese woman whose weight and moods fluctuate wildly. When Alice commits suicide by stuffing herself with peanuts, leading to extreme anaphylactic shock, the investigators working the case believe that David may actually have murdered her. Though grief stricken, David also suffers from strange emotions after his wife's death due to the fact that he had been writing a novel about killing Alice. In a complex way, David loved his wife while also hating her; longing to be married to her while at the same time longing to be free. When the two lead detectives, Hastroll and Sheppard, begin to delve into the Pepin case, the secrets of their marriages also come into focus. It seems that Hastroll also has problems with his wife. For some strange reason, she hasn't left her bed in five months, a situation that frustrates and confuses her husband. When Hastroll begins going to extraordinary lengths to get her out of bed, their relationship takes a turn for the worse. Sheppard also has a turbulent history with marriage. Many years ago, after a party, his wife was found murdered in their home. Though the police could never prove his guilt, neither could they confirm his innocence, and Sheppard spent a decade in jail. Now free, he is partnered with Hastroll in their efforts to find the truth about Alice's death. Winding together the stories of three very bizarre marriages, Mr. Peanut deftly exposes and tackles the fundamental aspects of singularity and coupledom, desire and detestability, and blurs the lines between reality and fantasy.

This book was a wild ride from start to finish. Having heard how twisting and strange the story was definitely was an enticement to read the book, but the execution and sheer inventiveness is the reason I stayed so happily stuck within its pages. It was a clever maze of a read where nothing is what it seems and though it could be a tad confusing at times, there was a quality of the story bending backwards and constantly morphing on itself that didn't fail to put me through my paces as a reader.

One of the things I think it's important to mention about this story is that it's not all gimmick. Though there were times that the book read more like a puzzle, there were also times it became a very literary read, full of recurring symbolism and deep themes and issues, and adept language. Ross didn't have a hard time incorporating all of these aspects into the plot and I think that's one of the things that stood out to me most. Even the genre was fluid in this book, being mostly a dramatic noir read but also with elements of mystery, a trio of love stories and a novel of dark comedy. The book was not afraid to tackle inflammatory issues as well, and in a very articulate manner manages to speak clearly and coherently about the social and personal ramifications of obesity, infidelity, infertility and most especially mental illness. Though all these things were discussed at great length, this never became a preachy "message" book but instead deftly integrated all these aspects into its complex labyrinth of a plot.

There are really three parts to this book. Three portrayals of marriage, each focusing on different areas and issues. Though I felt that some stories were more interesting and engaging, I did end up getting caught up in all of them. As I was reading, I came across some similar themes among the three relationships. Mainly, all three men felt strangely dominated by their wives' emotions and attempted to find ways to escape. In each case the escape was different, and in some cases this escape was only dreamed of and never put into action. Even more strangely, all three main characters admit to themselves alone that their lives might be better if their wives were no longer alive. The thought that their freedom could only come by the death of their wives was horrifying, yet I think Ross does a great deal to explain his characters motives and desires. These men could be repugnant at times, overly selfish and thoughtless, but in fact, they were all very human. Ross explores some very dark themes in this book, and in addition to being interesting, it also makes you think. It made me wonder just how permeable the boundaries were between subconscious desire and the full realization of desperate acts.

I think one of the most interesting things about this book was its characters. I couldn't help but hate these men with their insecurity and selfishness, but I also couldn't help but be enthralled with them as well. They were almost like children at times, throwing temper tantrums when life felt unfair and the next minute crying in their perceived abandonment. I was exasperated with them but also curious about where they would end up. I think I felt the most affinity and repugnance for David Pepin. As more and more about his life and internal thought process was revealed, I became more drawn to him. He was a really frightening man, overcome by need and desire, and petty and jealous. He put on a facade of loving and supporting his wife, but in reality, loving her was an act of self preservation and at times pity. Yet there was something so hang-dog about him. He was grossly unappreciated by his wife, but I began to ask myself, did David really deserve any appreciation, what with all that ugliness hiding in his heart? I think this book forced me to ask some tough questions about marriage and partnership, and the answers that presented themselves weren't always pretty.

There is a crazy amount of detail and cohesion in this book, which is one of the things that made it such a satisfying read for me. Though the middle of the book dragged a little at times, I think the mix of the three plots mostly went off without a hitch, and when the end was finally revealed I was at once awed, satisfied, and I admit, a little confused. I think that there are a lot of loose ends in this story and it was very cool to see the way Ross tied them all up in knots and bows. I couldn't help but feel both disgusted and impressed with this story, and for all the implausibility in it, there was also a lot of realism. All through this book, I kept asking myself just what kind of relationship Ross has with his wife. Not a very literary question, but one that was on my mind nonetheless!

Overall I thought this was an excellent read. Engaging from the start, it pulls you along through all its crazy twists and deposits you blinking and shocked on the other side. This is a more meaty read and it does require a bit of patience and perseverance, but in the end, the reader is so richly rewarded that it seems like a small price to pay. I will definitely be paying attention to Ross in the future. He has some interesting ideas and a very complex way of stringing together a story. A very clever and enticing read. Highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

12 comments:

Amy said...

Interesting question, what the author's relationship is with his wife! I've heard this book mentioned a lot but hadn't read anything about it - definitely not what I thought it was going to be! Sounds interesting but odd.

Sandy Nawrot said...

OK, well if this is any indication of how excellent your review was, about halfway through I stopped and logged onto OCLS website and ordered the damned thing. I HAVE to read this book. I love puzzles and I love to have my mind messed with.

Steph said...

I'm so glad you loved this one so much! I actually have a copy and am pretty excited to get to it, as it sounds just wild and dark enough to thrill me to my very bones. Your review has definitely made me think of bumping it up the TBR pile!

bermudaonion said...

I may pick this one up for myself when I go to buy Mockingjay for my hubby tomorrow. Great review!

Bibliophile By the Sea said...

OMG...I am reading this right now, but only 60 pages into it, so I saved your review for later. I am LOVING it though!

Suko said...

Oh, my! This book sounds dark and complex. Imagine trying to portray three marriages! Excellent review, as usual!

Vasilly said...

This sounds like an excellent read. Great review.

nomadreader said...

I heard this author interviewed on NPR when this novel came out, and something about him rubbed me the wrong way. I must go back and listen again because your review makes me want to read it. I suppose being annoying as a person doesn't mean one isn't a great writer:-)

Jenny said...

Oh, God, what a horrible way to kill yourself! Not that, you know, there are fun ways to kill yourself, but inducing anaphylactic shock sounds particularly unpleasant. :(

Darlene said...

I had seen this one the other day but that cover throws me off. lol. It sounds like a good read - great review as usual.

Lisa said...

Wow, this one is definitely not your usual read. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it--it has had me intrigued but it always helps convince me to read a book when a variety of people like it.

Nymeth said...

I love a story with a good twist, and this sounds so dark and intriguing and unique. Adding it to my wishlist.

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