After watching the film earlier this year, I bought Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook and proceeded to wait for my classes to end and the time for Fun Reading to begin again. Thought provoking, tragically real, and yet still optimistic, the determination of Pat Peoples makes for a novel that is easily accessible, easily relatable, and simultaneously enjoyable and enlightening.
Having spent an unspecified amount of time in a mental care institution, the “bad place,” Pat Peoples is released into the care of his parents. Determined to improve himself in both character and physical appearance in order to facilitate a reconciliation with his estranged wife, he spends most of his time working out in his parents’ basement, taking breaks to attend his mandatory therapy sessions and to watch Eagles football games with his brother and father. All of his family and friends tiptoe around him, withholding in the name of protecting or simply to avoid confrontation. But Pat must ultimately confront and deal with the world he has returned to. He is surprised to find that his new acquaintance, Tiffany, seems to understand him better than the others, despite being at least as messed up as he is.
It is difficult to pinpoint just what it is about The Silver Linings Playbook that makes it work so well. The narrative can be simplistic and repetitive, which can be frustrating or dull and in most situations, I would be inclined to find it off-putting or evidence of poor writing. However, it feels genuine coming from Pat’s character whose diagnosis is never explicitly stated and when one considers how the root of his questionable behavior is also left vague and debatable.
Though its origins are unclear through much of the novel, the layers of damage he has suffered are tangible and the ambiguity is what allows the character to be so relatable. His blind resolve for and hard work towards a happy ending is infectious. The harshness and realism of the story put the possibility of a happy ending in doubt even as the reader’s desire for one flourishes (in an apparently inverse relationship). Pat and the reader gradually learn that happy endings and silver linings don’t align as perfectly as expected.
There is a lot of football in the novel. A lot. And it is specific to the Philadelphia Eagles and their 2006 season. It could alienate readers who are not familiar with football (or who simply do not care for the sport). At the same time, for those who enjoy or are enthusiastic fans, the way that Quick shows how football can be a vehicle for bringing people from wildly different backgrounds and who are unlikely to acknowledge one another in everyday life. While his example is football, the ability to bridge diversity and rally around anything is hopeful and more of it is needed. At the same time, the potential for violence or negativity towards an Other is ever present and must be guarded against.
Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook is relatively short, the pacing keeps the story moving, and it is a hard book not to enjoy while learning something, even if it’s just how to stay positive.