Saturday, March 23, 2013

Matthew Quick takes on bi-polar disorder in this fine novel.

The Silver Linings Playbook (304 pages, Sarah Crichton Books, $15), a film version of which was recently celebrated at the Academy Awards, is Matthew Quick’s attempt to tell, in a humorous way, the horror of dealing with bi-polar disorder in a tightly-knit family.

Pat Peoples comes out of the psychiatric hospital with a hazy memory of the last several years.  He does not remember why he was in the hospital or what happened between himself and his wife Nikki.  He just knows that he and she are spending some time apart—“apart time”—and that he has to make himself the best person he can be in order to be worthy of getting back together with her.

It becomes clear to the reader right away that this will never be.  His mother has hidden pictures of Nikki and any wedding pictures she had, and she refuses to talk about Nikki when Pat brings her up.  His therapist Cliff, too, at least until he builds trust, seems to want to shift his attention away from Nikki.

But the novel shows us that Pat can think of barely anything else.  When he meets the sister of his best friend’s wife, herself recently bereaved, he does not know how to deal with her, and when she starts to come on to him, he thinks she must not understand about his marriage.  In these first attempts at seduction, the two characters dissolve in tears together, and that should be a sign of how much they could share.

Tiffany does not give up: she jogs alongside Pat and she shows up at his house form time to time.  He enjoys talking to her, but he never imagines that they are anything but friends.

He builds intimacy with his family, especially with his brother, by getting back into the Philadelphia football team, the Eagles, and by trying to help his mother deal with his impossible father.  Pat’s father’s moods are run by the developments in football, and nobody can deal with him when the Eagles lose.

Another great football fan turns out to be Cliff, the therapist, and the bond they establish because of the game enables Pat to make some progress toward recovery.

Tiffany also helps.  In the first place, she promises to bring Pat letters from Nikki.  In exchange she asks him to dance with her in a local dance competition.  Pat resists, but he finally agrees, and every step he thinks is bringing him close to Niiki, is really bringing him closer to Tiffany.

The Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful portrayal of the struggle for mental health.  It is also a vivid account of family love and family responsibility.  It has been made into a powerful film, but that’s because the novel is so wonderful to being with.

Matthew Quick

The Silver Linings Playbook is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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