Matt's Reviews > Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
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's review
Mar 27, 2012

it was ok
Read in March, 2012

I feel like I'm swimming upstream here, given the generally positive reviews of this book and the way it landed on a lot of top ten lists, etc, but I thought this was kind of overdone. I mean, I appreciate the ambition of it, this kind of weirdly self-aware book that recycles lots of language (for example, the way that the Mr Peanut of the title reappears and morphs to mean different things in different sections of the book) and that generally seems to be aware of itself as literature. The level of plotting, the intricacies of the easter eggs and the nesting dolls and all the rest are usually just the kind of formal patterning I enjoy.

But here, I found them strangely limiting. I really think that the idea was to somehow set out to explore the experience of a wide swathe of married men, from different circumstances and generations, and to drill down and see how they experienced marriage, fidelity, etc. But I think, somehow, the exact opposite happened here-- somehow Ross flattened out all experience into one experience, and it made me think that this is a book, for all its writerly intelligence, craft, and cleverness, fundamentally lacks imagination, the kind of imagination that allows for empathy, for the creation of fully realized other selves and that makes us care about them. Instead, this book created one figure, this married man archetype, and then inserted him like a Ken Doll into a lot of received narratives.

It was, for me, an oddly frustrating, exasperating and long-winded read. I felt like I knew all I was going to get from the book by page 100 or so, and everything after that was a confirmation that Ross didn't have much else to say. But lots of people I respect see a lot more in this book, so maybe you should trust them.
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