The Silver Linings Playbook
This week a new story, Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, The Silver Linings Playbook. I first read the book six years ago after seeing the great film adaptation directed by David O. Russell, and the differences between the two intrigued me. I believe the book is a darker rendering with a more open ending.
Matthew Quick was a public and private school English teacher. Silver Linings was his first published book and was nominated for a PEN/Hemingway Award and optioned for a film before it was published.
My position reading the book for the first time was a unique one.
(Because you think you’re special).
I refuse to get drawn into childish name calling with certain audience members. If you don’t have anything constructive to say, then just listen. As is said in Silver Linings, it’s better to be kind than to be right.
I had a whole set of pre-conceptions about the characters and story. I knew nothing of Mr. Quick. I quickly realized the novel was a different beastie than the film and grew to appreciate it in its own right. I’ve read that David O. Russell filmed more than one version of the script before settling on one—specifically having Robert De Niro portray the character of the father as darker vs. more comedic.
However, neither Mr. Russell nor Mr. De Niro have commented on these matters to me.
(Because they don’t care).
Silver Linings the novel is what we will focus on. I have the first paperback edition from 2010, published before the film was made. The first-time reader is confronted with the cover that displays the title, and a distant image of two people jogging down a suburban street. The author’s name is there, as well as a quotation from “Nancy Pearl, NPR, Summer’s Best Books,” in which she says, “Heartwarming, humorous, and soul-satisfying.” Well, such is the standard for book promotion. Since I spend most of my waking hours listening to National Public Radio, I took this quote positively. The title refers to silver linings, a focus on positive things, and to playbooks, an athletic reference, the whole title seems to refer to an athlete’s guide to achieving silver linings. Here we have an interesting self-referential thingee. The book is indeed about a former athletic coach who has a personal philosophy about seeing the positive, and the story itself is a kind of guide for the reader on how to find silver linings—not at all in any pedantic way, meaning it doesn’t hit you over the head, trying to teach you something. But there is wisdom within.
However, the protagonist’s philosophy is shown to be—at least initially—largely derived from self-delusion and denial.
Pat Peoples (Pat Solitano in the film) is a former high school teacher who, at the beginning of the story, is released from a psychiatric hospital where he’s been confined after a brutal assault on a man his wife Nikki was having an affair with. He has coped with being hospitalized by idealizing his now ex-wife and believing that he can magically make her return to him by becoming the person he thinks she wanted him to be.
That’s a tortuous sentence.
In Pat’s words: “I believe in happy endings…And it feels like this movie has gone on for the right amount of time…Haven’t you ever noticed that life is like a series of movies?…Well, you have adventures. All start out with troubles, but then you admit your problems and become a better person by working really hard, which is what fertilizes the happy ending and allows it to bloom…Plus I know it’s almost time for the happy ending, when Nikki will come back, because I have improved myself so very much through physical fitness and medication and therapy.”
Works of fiction are made up; the reader is always asked to accept certain elements of a story’s reality on faith. Silver Lining is a realist novel told in memoir style by a first person narrator who we’re asked to accept as the voice of Pat Peoples, the protagonist who we’re also asked to accept as a “real” person. Not so hard, he presents himself in realistic fashion, albeit obsessed and in denial. Further, we’re asked to believe that he is communicating with us through a text, that he is telling us a story. As this story develops, we come to understand that Pat is an “unreliable narrator.” In other words, he believes what he is relating is true, but we start to doubt that he knows what he’s talking about. More on this next time.
Of course, in the time-honored tradition of this blog and my thoughts, I would like to—
(Sounds of loud yawning).
I would like to present the classic story-telling triumvirate in Silver Linings—first, the real author, Matthew Quick, second, the Narrator who stays pretty close to the Protagonist, and finally, the book’s style. We have immediate evidence of the presence of the style in the chapter headings. Chapter 1 is entitled, “An Infinite Amount of Days Until My Inevitable Reunion with Nicki.” Very interesting, almost like another layer and voice of commentary. Ostensibly in Pat’s voice, this phrase is saying Pat’s reunion with his ex-wife is both an infinite number of days away (it will never occur) and inevitable—a bit of a paradox. Of course, you can also take it as a somewhat poetic expression of Pat’s experience—that his wait to be re-united with his wife feels endless. However, as we read, we form the impression that Pat is rather concrete and not terribly poetic. Further, Pat would not, particularly at this early stage, admit that the reunion is infinitely off in the future, being very committed to re-union.
Curious. Who is communicating with us here? Is it the Narrator? Don’t think so. I think it’s the style, the text’s implied author whom we’ve had to flush out before. The style or the implied author, begins to diverge from the story presented by the Narrator about the Protagonist, gradually showing the reader that the Protagonist is mistaken. Actually the Narrator also assists the reader in understanding that Pat is mistaken by showing, not these chapter titles, but certain interactions with other characters.