Should I read it? No. As if it's not painful enough to see author Matthew Quick has done little to no research on mental illness, his writing seems aw...moreShould I read it? No. As if it's not painful enough to see author Matthew Quick has done little to no research on mental illness, his writing seems awkward and immature, more first draft than final. I have no idea how this book was picked up and made into a film, much less one with big-name actors. (Who does Matthew Quick know?) It's shocking enough The Silver Linings Playbook was published by Macmillan.
What's the short and skinny of it? When Pat Peoples' mother brings him home from the neural health facility he's been living in, Pat sees it as a turning point in the "movie" of his life. Perpetually optimistic, he believes he will soon be reunited with his wife, Nikki. First, though, Pat knows he must continue to improve himself, to become the man Nikki always needed him to be. With the help of family, friends, and American football fans, Pat discovers life may not always go according to plan, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Tell me more. My review should be prefaced with the following: (1) I read The Silver Linings Playbook because I knew the film version was "about mental illness" and had been nominated for Best Picture in the Oscars; (2) at the time of this review, I still had not so much as watched a trailer for the film; and (3) I did not read a review or even a summary for this book prior to starting it. In short, I entered Silver Linings with very little knowledge of what it was about, and my review covers the confusion I felt while reading it.
In the first several pages of Silver Linings, author Matthew Quick sets the tone for the entire book; it's to be one of those vague memory loss stories where the main character has to discover his own past. It's here that you're introduced to Pat Peoples' stilted and juvenile first person narration, and I'll admit I had no idea how I should view it.
Seemingly suffering from convenient memory loss, Pat strangely calls the neural health facility he's lived in "the bad place" and refers to the separation from his wife, Nikki, as "apart time." He struggles to understand certain emotions and has an almost childlike understanding of the world around him; any negative reality is avoided in favor of the more hopeful "silver linings" of life. He occasionally has hallucinations involving Kenny G--seriously--which often result in some violent outburst. He's prescribed numerous medications for his mental health, but no clear diagnosis is ever mentioned.
Pat is neither a good main character nor an accurate portrayal of those who are mentally ill. There are times when Pat seems retarded (whether since birth or as a result of an accident, one can only guess for most of the book), clinically depressed, schizophrenic, or psychotic. In the first few pages, I even thought Pat's stilted, aloof descriptions of his life might indicate some form of autism. In other words, Pat is whatever the author wants him to be in the moment, science and logic be damned. It's as if Quick watched half a dozen Hollywood films on mental illness, neurological disorders, and memory loss and said, "What the hell? I'm pretty well a licensed psychiatrist now. Time to write that book." And so Silver Livings was irresponsibly born to add to the plethora of poorly-researched media about the brain. Even once some minor explanations are given later in the book, not all of Pat's problems can be realistically attributed to them.
Silver Linings might be forgiven for its psychiatric inaccuracies if you don't care or know better, but the book has other problems as well. None of the characters ever quite come alive. Pat's mother comes closest to "popping" off the pages, but she's less defined by her own actions than by the abusive and codependent relationship she finds herself in with Pat's father. There's clinically depressed Tiffany, who doesn't really behave like any clinically depressed person I've ever known--and I've known a few--whose world primarily revolves around Pat and a dance recital. Cliff, Pat's therapist, is defined by his love for football and the color of his skin (he's a brown-skinned Indian, everyone! if you missed that, it'll be mentioned again in a few pages). Danny, one of Pat's friends from "the bad place," is mostly narrowed down to his blackness and just how stereotypical Quick can make him; but he "uncharacteristically" likes Parcheesi, so all the stereotyping is okay or something. Pat's brother, Jake, is only defined by his wealth, occasional violent outbursts or threatening behavior, and love for football; likewise, Pat's father is known mainly for his abusive nature and obsession with football.
You may have noticed a trend with the characterization of the men in this novel: they're all big football fans. (Many of them also happen to be violent, encourage violence, or accept violence; make of that what you will.) Pat's (Quick's) love for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles is often used as a sort of shorthand for adding depth to side characters. Nearly all the men in this book--never the women--are passionate about football, enough so that they can be seen randomly chanting various team songs everywhere. I've lived around some pretty die-hard football fans, but never in my life have I seen people break into song as often as Quick's characters do for the Eagles. They damn near reach real-life musical status. Not only did this not add depth to the characters, but it also quickly became repetitive and sort of...um, weird.
Finally, Silver Linings' ending feels rushed, and loose ends remain for nearly all the characters. However, in Pat, Quick has created a character with numerous, severe problems that he then bestows an unrealistically positive ending upon, proving Pat isn't the only one who favors "silver linings." Pat eventually remembers his past, and of course the "silver linings" in his life aren't exactly what he was expecting them to be, but he's given some minor closure, which is more than can be said for several of the other characters. Still, it's hard to care about any of it when you're not sure what problems remain for Pat; there seem to be many.
At the very least, Pat needs to take a writing class to learn about the value of contractions. Yes, that's how I'm ending this review.
Aside: Probably in some poor attempt to make his book appear intellectual, Quick spoils a lot of the classics--Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Plath's The Bell Jar, Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--so if you haven't read them, but plan to and hate spoilers, don't read "Silver Linings." Really, though, just don't read it because it's a poorly written book.
Aside #2: I eventually watched the movie. It was horrible.
======================================== Quotes From the Book (Apply your own positive/negative connotations.) ========================================
After I returned to New Jersey, I thought I was safe, because I did not think Kenny G could leave the bad place, which I realize is silly now--because Kenny G is extremely talented and resourceful and a powerful force to be reckoned with.
He does the Eagles chant--"E!-A!-G!-L!-E!-S! EAGLES!"--which makes me laugh because he is my therapist and I did not know therapists could like NFL football.
...and I do wonder why women are always hemorrhaging in American literature.(less)
Should I read it? Maybe. The story feels dated and is quite flawed, in my opinion, but it might provide some interesting context for those who have wat...moreShould I read it? Maybe. The story feels dated and is quite flawed, in my opinion, but it might provide some interesting context for those who have watched, or are planning to watch, the film(s) Total Recall, which are very loosely based on this story, from what I understand.
What's the short and skinny of it? In this (very) short story about memory, main character Douglas Quail dreams of visiting Mars. He also knows he'll never get there on his own intellect or money, so he opts for the second-best thing and visits Rekal, Incorporated, a business that is able to plant false memories into a person's brain. With Rekal's help, Douglas hopes to put his spirit at ease by "remembering" a glorious past mission to Mars that never took place. But when Rekal's technicians go to plant memories in Douglas' brain, everyone is in for a big surprise.
Tell me more. Philip K. Dick is an odd one. When I read his fiction, I often come away feeling rather unimpressed by, well, everything. Still, I can't deny that, for many, there must be something to Dick's dated, bare bones writing, as so many of his short stories lead to full-length feature film adaptations, some of which have even been good. Having never watched the two Total Recall films that "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" apparently inspired, I entered this short story free of expectation and assumption. So when I say I came away frustrated by poor characterization and clichéd plot twists, it has nothing to do with comparing or contrasting this story to the films.
When reading old science fiction--"We Can Remember" was first published in 1966--you should always expect the content to feel dated. Of course, this step back into science fictional history is part of what's interesting in many cases, and the best stories manage to remain relevant by having stellar characters and/or plots. "We Can Remember" just isn't good enough to push through that dusty film time places on it, though. It strongly represents its era: It's got quirky, retro futuristic terms, like "vid-aud tape" and "microtape phone book," and the only two women in the short story exemplify the typical 1960s view of most all women in the forms of the harping, conniving bitch (Douglas' wife, Kirsten) and the mostly passive sexual object (the topless receptionist of Rekal who naturally has the hots for Douglas). "We Can Remember" doesn't overcome such shortcomings with its characters or plot, both of which fall victim to one trope after another, so I question whether it has much modern value.
I wasn't surprised by anything Dick had planned. However, it occurs to me that this is perhaps an odd testament to his writing; perhaps I've seen these tropes so many times, partly because of this story. After all, ideas become clichés only because we love them enough to revisit them. But is that the case here, or is the explanation much simpler--that "We Can Remember" sported a stale plot even in 1966? At the end of the day, I don't care enough to go digging for the truth. This is just another Philip K. Dick story that makes me skeptical about his writing and the way it's often credited as being a modern inspiration. I must be missing something here!
Should I read it? Not really. Earth has some interesting ideas, but they're swallowed up by a host of extraneous characters and subplots. Worse, the en...moreShould I read it? Not really. Earth has some interesting ideas, but they're swallowed up by a host of extraneous characters and subplots. Worse, the ending--a deus ex machina--will frustrate many readers.
What's the short and skinny of it? It's the year 2038, and Earth ain't doin' so well. The planet is overheated and overpopulated. Economies have failed; income inequality is rampant. And somewhere, deep inside the earth, a technological innovation has gone awry as an artificial black hole may eat the planet from the inside out.
Tell me more. Earth was published in 1990, and its core plot is set in 2038. This dates the book occasionally, but, as with all aging science fiction, it's interesting to see what the author was and wasn't able to predict about our present-day world. (Let's all hope Brin's completely wrong about future catastrophes involving black holes, though.) Old predictions about our present and future, however, no matter how intriguing or impressive, don't necessarily breathe life into a story. When it comes to spirit, Earth is pretty much all "head" and no "heart."
Brin is a scientist himself--according to his website, he's even cowritten "NASA-funded studies with California Space Institute, regarding robotics & space station design" (so, like, wow)--and like many scientists who dabble in fiction, he journeys into the hard science fiction genre, attempting to create plots that are theoretically possible, even if improbable.
This sort of writing isn't for everyone, and it's why there's hardly any "heart" to Earth. Hard science fiction can sometimes seem preachy as an author tries to teach readers a lesson, and more often than not I've seen good characterization sacrificed at an altar of science, projected or pseudo. Earth does have its preachy moments--to say the least, it would just about have to, given the book title--but it's the characters who suffer most as Brin molds them from stereotypes (or obvious stereotype reversals) and dedicates the content of their thoughts and dialogue to awkward infodumps.
In my experience, these are expected shortcomings of the hard science fiction genre, but Brin's Earth faces a much more common problem seen in works from all genres of fiction: there are too many characters and subplots, and most prove to have no purpose whatsoever. To me, this is unacceptable in a book that is seven hundred pages long. (I guess it's heartening to know the need for more and better editors isn't necessarily a new issue, however.) I can't quite shake the feeling that Earth wasted a fair bit of my time, and that was with considerable skim-reading.
So what did I enjoy about Earth? I can answer that easily. Between some of the book's chapters, you find nonfiction-styled excerpts that are about the state of the planet and society during various periods in (future) history. It comes as no surprise that Brin is better suited to nonfiction; these bits and pieces turn out to be really interesting and a much better conduit for his predictions. If I could have read the entire story through a filter of these fictional articles and transcripts, my rating would probably be very different. As it is, though, these works were just what kept me tolerating the rest of the book.
Whether you will like Earth or not depends upon how important quality characterization is to you and just how much clichés--(view spoiler)[surprise, it's totally, absurdly, aliens (hide spoiler)]--and a deus ex machina ending will bother you. As to that ending, I must quote another Goodreads reviewer's comical thoughts: "Just be prepared to be disappointed by the ending. Just make up your own, and pretend like the written ending isn't real." Because, yeah, it's that bad, mainly because Brin lets his characters and ideas back him into a corner. If you can be satisfied with contemplating interesting scientific possibilities alone, you may find you're able to overlook Earth's shortcomings. But don't say I didn't warn you.
If anything purely objective can be said of Brin's writing, it's probably that it's a perfect example of what's to be found in the hard science fiction genre. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but then I never said I was a huge fan of the genre to begin.
======================================== Quotes From the Book (Apply your own positive/negative connotations.) ========================================
Apocalypses, apparently, are subject to fashion like everything else. What terrifies one generation can seem obsolete and trivial to the next.
One of life's joys was to have friends who gave you reality checks...who would call you on your crap before it rose so high you drowned in it.
...worried governments suddenly began pouring forth reams--whole libraries--of information they'd been hoarding, stumbling over themselves to prove they weren't responsible for the sudden outbreak of gravitational war.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)