Ben Bush's Reviews > Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
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May 30, 11

Read from April 16 to May 30, 2011

At the center of the book is a pretty great 120-page historical novella about Dr. Sam Sheppard, the heart surgeon who did or didn't murder his wife and it plays around in some interesting ways with the impossibility of knowing what actually happened. In my imagination, Adam Ross wrote this and then was pretty hard pressed to figure out how to shape it into something of novel length and has put on either side of it has put a conceptually interesting but kind of poorly written experimental novel. The very end is clever but by that point he's lost the plot so completely over the preceding 50 pages that's it's not exactly a home run. One of the oddest things about things about the book is how the material about Sam Sheppard, set in the 1950s feels so completely and believably imagined, but that the contemporary stuff about Ross's own time period feels cardboard thin. This was a section that particularly made me cringe. "They kissed, and it was like a (sic) watching a sand castle washed over by a wave: merlons of the parapets melted to crenels, turrets toppled and gun slits collapsed sliding into the sea." but as I write this I'm reminded that one of the novel's conceits is that some of it is being written by the good version of the main character and the other part is being written by the bad one and so perhaps I've missed the greater point that one of them is intended to be a very melodramatic writer. There's stuff that makes this book pretty interesting but in the end I can't exactly recommend it. It would be interesting to hear the reactions of someone who read only pages 156-269. I've never watched "Mad Men" and I wonder if I had, whether I'd be less impressed by the hard-drinking, adulterous 1950s world Ross has conjured up. There's a reference to "to the mad men of Madison Avenue" in the later section of the book that feels semi-anachronistic, although I assume the term predates the TV show.

The part about Hawaii could have been way shorter, but I like his use of various close third perspectives. Also, I feel like I learned something kind of technical from it about quotes in flashbacks within a large scene. (Spoiler: don't use paragraph breaks after each of these like you normally would.)

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