Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick)

I apologize for this review. I saw the movie version in January, which is obviously a few months ago. I still wanted to read the book, but I'm inevitably going to make comparisons with the movie. Sorry. That's both annoying if you haven't seen the movie and improper for examining a book on its own, but sometimes it happens.

Pat Peoples is in an asylum. He is having legally-enforced apart time from his wife, Nikki, whom he loves more than anything in the world. He is obsessed with her--everything he does he considers in the eyes of Nikki: he's started working out because Nikki likes a well-developed upper body; he acts compassionate toward people because it's one of Nikki's biggest complaints about his behavior.

The book begins with Pat's mother coming to check him out and take him home--for good. Pat has to adjust to being in the real world, something he hasn't done in four years (one of the things that makes the book so sad is that Pat's conception of time has been heavily altered; he believes he's only been locked up for a few months, not four whole years). Everyone uncomfortably attempts to integrate Pat back into their world, despite his obsession with Nikki and his tendency to react violently to negative things. Eventually, he meets Tiffany, a woman whose husband recently died, something with which she hasn't been dealing well. They soon become friends, going on runs together. Pat begins to attend sessions with a local therapist and is sucked up into the world of Philadelphia Eagles football, a fixation that controls Pat's father's unstable emotions.

The Silver Linings Playbook focuses on the reintegration of Pat back into his normal life. In comparison to the movie, the relationship with Tiffany (which I would argue is at the forefront of the film) is minimalized; I'm not saying that it's good or bad. In fact, in terms of representing Pat's ongoing Nikki-centric lifestyle, it is fascinating to examine the way his first-person narrative and how he marginalizes Tiffany because she represents the rival to his affections to his wife.

My problem with the movie is how stark the contrast is between the beginning and the end. The first half of the film is painful to watch because Bradley Cooper so carefully plays Pat. His mental illness is not hammy, nor is it so dramatic that it spirals into unintentional humor. But the second half gets a little goofy, works too hard to counterbalance the sadness of the first half, and it ends in a way that is completely sappy and saccharine.

The original novel avoids this; the ending of the movie is not the ending of the book, and the part of the novel that represents the movie's end is not nearly as cheerful as it is in the film. That doesn't mean that it's better, though: the reason Pat ends up in an asylum is kept from us for almost the whole book, which is obviously a tactic I find weak and annoying, and because Tiffany's role is so marginalized until almost the end, the outcome of their relationship is weaker, logically, to accept.

Ugh, I'm such a bad reviewer. The book is good; I would say it's as good as the film, but in different ways. They really are two different pieces of art that examine mental illness in a way that isn't overdone or sympathy-grabbing. Go for it.

My rating: 4/5
The Silver Linings Playbook on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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