Reading the book was weird because my mom has watched the movie and told me all about it; so I had a pretty vivid picture in my mind about how it would play out, especially Tiffany because that’s who my mom talked most about (and how, while she found Jennifer Lawrence’s acting impressive, did not deem it Oscar-worthy).
The book was very different from what I’d imagined. The narrator is Pat Peoples, portrayed by Bradley Cooper if I’m not mistaken, who is in his thirties, just out of a mental facility, and determined to get his wife back, from whom he is spending an “apart time”.
Pat is rather an unreliable narrator; he tells it the way he sees it, which is, especially at first, NOT at all like a grown-up man who used to teach history and be PE coach at high school. Speaking of which, there were football references and games and metaphors involving football everywhere. I understood the gist, but did not get any of the inside jokes and references and while I understood the passion, I did not share it with the people from the book. Sorry, Pat. It seems the author is a life-long Philadelphia Eagles fan as well, so, sorry Matthew Quick.
But your aim was not to recruit more people to become Eagles fan, was it.
Pat is a man of routine, so his daily life is pretty much working out, jogging with Tiffany on his heels, seeing his new therapist every Friday, receiving support from his mother and grunts from his father, doing stuff with his brother and best friend. It should have been tedious, perhaps, but it wasn’t. Pat’s way of looking at things is annoying at first, because he is always trying to work towards the happy ending of the movie that is his life by trying to become the man he thinks his wife, Nikki, will like. So he works out, burns away fat like a madman, reads classics because Nikki is an English teacher and she used to tease him about not knowing anything about serious literature, tries to be “kind rather than right” not because he believes that to be his new philosophy but because he thinks Nikki will like it. He remembers things from their marriage that he regrets having done – being absent a lot, scoffing when Nikki worried about her life, not complimenting her, etc. And yet he thinks that the next time he sees her and she worries about her weight, he will tell her that it’s okay because he prefers “women looking like women and not like “Ms. Six O’Clock – straight up, straight down” (p. 25), which I found really really offensive because now it was about him again, and it was not him accepting her however she may look like.
But it becomes clear to the readers relatively early on that Pat has some issues, and they are not just being too optimistic and hating people who are not optimistic. In fact, I’d not call it “optimism” but rather a movie-happy-ending-syndrome because he does bring that simile up a lot. Pat’s way of thinking, conducting and perceiving did not feel like that of a man who is in his thirties. We do not know whether he had similar problems before he went to the mental hospital although it is hinted that he did have a violent tendency. But the Pat we see in the majority of the book has the voice of a child, a confused teenager with a touch of Asperger’s. I say the latter because his narrative reminded me a bit of Christopher from “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. With Pat it is of course linked to his traumatic event that he keeps under wraps – from himself – from which he got his scar. That being said, Pat can be found to contradict himself from one chapter to another, from being “realistic” to being movie-happy-ending-optimistic again. It is only after he has revived the trauma and beat through it that he starts seeing more clearly. His voice changes gradually, too, to keep up with his mental state. Argh, I do not know how to write this and still sound politically correct. Let me just state for the record that I don’t think there is anything wrong with mental illnesses. I actually hate the word mental illness, it sounds so final and depressing, but I just can’t think of its synonyms right now. I myself have battled with bursts of depression and nihilism. I read many posts by wonderful people – wonderful writers, who wrote about their battles, triumphs and relapses. I read about depression, social anxiety, postpartum depression, and other forms of the head-thing where your body itself is healthy (maybe not your various hormone levels) but you just can’t drag yourself away from bed to do what should be the easiest thing. You become paralyzed, and it is of no use sometimes how much you scream and shout and beat against the invisible walls. It’s an internal struggle, and the best thing the people who love you can do for you to do whatever you need them to do for you. It’s hard. It’s so fucking hard, like Tiffany would say. So I don’t blame Pat or anything. It was just very weird to read his words and think that an adult man wrote them (I mean Pat, not Matthew Quick – although the words are Quick’s, I feel as if they are Pat’s, just the way it should be if it’s a very good book. So The Silver Linings Playbook was a very good book.), not because the head-things happen only to teenagers, but because Pat sounded so young and confused and vulnerable. Oh, and can I just state how much I love his one-year-younger brother Jack and their brotherly relationship. And how much I admire Pat’s mother, who is patient and loving and soft and strong.
Now let me come to Tiffany, the main reason I wanted to read the book in the first place, if you will. Even though I knew the book was told from the male character’s POV, I’d expected to be more pages with Tiffany in them, and not just as a silent jogger. Pat meets Tiffany fairly early in the book through his best friend Ronnie and his wife Veronica, who is Tiffany’s sister. After the rather unusual meeting, Tiffany assumes the role of a mostly silent bystander for the next chunk of the novel, even though there must be a lot of inner turmoil going on in her mind. She gets a more active voice once she convinces Pat to join her in the dance contest Dance Away Depression, which doesn’t start until we are at page 180 (out of 289). Hundred pages aren’t a lot, people, especially if you have a character like Tiffany lurking around, waiting to slip in her own voice. I wish we have had more of it but what we did have was impressive. Tiffany’s problems are not unlike Pat’s, although they manifested in different ways for both of them. I’d actually love to see Jennifer act this one out although I’m afraid that’s going to ruin a part of the reading experience from today. Her last letter to Pat was only seven pages long, and only about four or five of them are about herself, but there was so much to be gained from it that you start seeing Tiffany under a different light. I really really wish the ending might have been less abrupt and the inner conflict Tiffany was going through shown more – I don’t care whether through direct speech or letters or songs or whatever. Just more words from Tiffany, please. I wish I could hug her and talk to her and just be there for her. Isn’t it funny how I kept rooting for Tiffany more than I did for Pat. And by “rooting” I don’t mean in the shipping way. Just I thought more of Tiffany and wanted her to be happy than I did with Pat.
I loved the letters. All of them. I also really love the montage chapter. And how the workout and jogging scenes keep repeating every once in a while because I could totally picture that as movie scenes, and I loved it.
Incidentally, I haven’t been able to stop listening to Naughty Boy’s LaLaLa because the song has the line “I can’t find your silver lining” and whenever I see the book, I have to think automatically of the song.
Altogether a memorable reading experience, and I love it that it made me write all those wrong paragraphs because it means the book made me think, and made me feel, and it especially made me think and feel hard enough to not ignore my compulsion to write the words down. I deleted almost no words in this post because I wanted my first impression to be as honest and freshly vivid as I can. I am in the head-zone now where nothing exists but for the sense of not being there. Does it make sense? Probably not.