Mesmerizing, exhilarating, and profoundly moving, Mr. Peanut is a police procedural of the soul, a poignant investigation of the relentlessly mysterious human heart—and a first novel of the highest order.
David Pepin has been in love with his wife, Alice, since the moment they met in a university seminar on Alfred Hitchcock. After thirteen years of marriage, he still can’t imagine a remotely happy life without her—yet he obsessively contemplates her demise. Soon she is dead, and David is both deeply distraught and the prime suspect.
The detectives investigating Alice’s suspicious death have plenty of personal experience with conjugal enigmas: Ward Hastroll is happily married until his wife inexplicably becomes voluntarily and militantly bedridden; and Sam Sheppard is especially sensitive to the intricacies of marital guilt and innocence, having decades before been convicted and then exonerated of the brutal murder of his wife.
Still, these men are in the business of figuring things out, even as Pepin’s role in Alice’s death grows ever more confounding when they link him to a highly unusual hit man called Mobius. Like the Escher drawings that inspire the computer games David designs for a living, these complex, interlocking dramas are structurally and emotionally intense, subtle, and intriguing; they brilliantly explore the warring impulses of affection and hatred, and pose a host of arresting questions. Is it possible to know anyone fully, completely? Are murder and marriage two sides of the same coin, each endlessly recycling into the other? And what, in the end, is the truth about love?
Mesmerizing, exhilarating, and profoundly moving, Mr. Peanut is a police procedural of the soul, a poignant investigation of the relentlessly mysterious human heart—and a first novel of the highest order.
Adam Ross's debut novel, Mr. Peanut, a 2010 New York Times Notable Book, was also named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New Republic, and The Economist. Ladies and Gentlemen, his short story collection, was one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2011 and included the story, "In the Basement,'' a finalist for the BBC International Story Prize. His nonfiction has been published in The New York Times Book Review, The Daily Beast, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and GQ. He was the Mary Ellen von der Heyden fellow in fiction at the American Academy in Berlin, as well as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University. His current novel, Playworld, will be released in 2023. He is the editor of the Sewanee Review.
oh, mr. peanut - you were so close to earning a five-star rating from me!! and this is probably my failing rather than any fault of the book, in a way, because i had unrealistic expectations based on just sheer enthusiastic nothing. the book starts out so strong, that when it started going mildly wrong for me, i felt betrayed, and maybe took its departure from where i wanted it to be a little personally*. (i call this house of leaves syndrome) i had been shelving this book for at least a month, thinking to myself, "cool cover", before i finally read what it was about (due to the enthusiasm of jasmine, courtney and sabiel) then my freaking head almost exploded. it sounded amazing! the first thing i thought was "oh,murdered wife, spiraling narrative, loopy digressions; it will be like the seducer which is a perfect book!"** this,too, will be a perfect book! and i read the first few pages and fell in love.
and for a while, everything was just rosy.
but then... and it's nothing that is wrong with the book or flawed, necessarily, but it was... imperfect. to me.
the unevenness of the pacing kind of threw me a little. the hastroll bits (which seem to be everybody's least favorite) were not given nearly enough "screen-time" to develop, while alice and david in hawaii seemed to go on forever. and when the sheppard plotline kicked into high gear, i forgot everything else and lost myself in their thread. and that's no small feat - to create discrete characters that the reader is engaged enough in that each story, when being told, becomes the story. (or, me-as-reader, anyway - you hastroll-haters!)
it's great, it is a really great book, please understand this. and there are already some excellent reviews out there, which point out the strengths and flaws better than i could:
i am glad that i managed to fit in two viewings of inception before/while reading this, because my "what the fuck" and my "yeah, but what about..." muscles are definitely working overtime. i will have to read this again (and gladly) to get all the pieces in order, with the doublings and the echoes and the foreshadowing etc.
he is an amazing writer. i fully expect his next book to be a five-star-worthy book. this one is "only" very very very good.
and i don't want to say much more because a lot of what is glorious about this book is the discovery of it. so just ignore my bullshit quibbles and read it.
* although i was recently told by some douchebag on this site, "sorry darling, you can't always get what you want." which darn it all, it seems i still haven't learned.
** shit, i just noticed i only gave the seducer 4 stars... really, karen? in my memory, it is perfect. see how little i can be trusted?
*(That joke brought to you by my ex-wife. Not to be confused with the far superior current Mrs. Kemper. Hi, honey!)
Anyone who has had a long-term relationship that involved living with your significant other has had this moment. Not when you get on each other’s nerves over the trivial crap like hogging all the blankets or not picking up your socks. I’m talking about that moment when you look at someone you claim to know and love better than anyone else, and think:
“I have no idea who you are, what you’re thinking at this moment, why you’re doing that, and I’d pay any amount of money to be on the other side of the planet assembling iPods in a Chinese sweatshop for the rest of my life rather then spend another minute trying to figure it out.”
But those moments pass. Usually. If not, then see the first two sentences of this review. It’s is an oddity of marriage/cohabitation where you sometimes realize just how little any of us know each other. Adam Ross illustrates this concept brilliantly in Mr. Peanut.
David Pepin loves his wife, Alice, but they’re having a lot of problems. Alice has become extremely obese. David doesn’t have a problem with her weight, it’s Alice’s repeated insistence on following the latest dieting or exercise fads that make his life miserable. When she’s in these phases, David is dealing with constant needy mood swings while she’s trying to lose weight and then her crushing guilt when she fails.
To cope with this, David constantly fantasizes about Alice’s death. Not necessarily murdering her, just what it would be like if she was dead. The book skips forward in time to a point where Alice is actually dead after losing a lot of weight. She died from an allergic reaction to eating peanuts. David claims she did it deliberately to kill herself, but did he really force the peanuts down her throat?
Two detectives think David killed her. But Ward Hastroll’s wife refuses to leave her bed, and his partner, Sam Sheppard (Hmm, I wonder why that name seems familiar?), had some issues with his late wife. So the cops who are trying to figure out what happened between David and Alice are baffled by their own marriages.
It’s at this point that Mr. Peanut gets extremely ambitious and more than a little weird. But in a good way. The story folds back over itself and hops around in time. There are significant detours into the cops’ stories, and there’s another layer of weirdness there. But despite it’s clever use of structure and keeping the reader in the dark until the end of the book, Ross never loses the main point. Namely, that no one knows what’s really go on in a marriage, including the people in it.
Adam Ross has got some fierce writing skills. The man can write, no two ways about it. There's a point fairly early on in Mr Peanut where he hits his stride, and for about the next 100 pages, he delivers some of the best material I've read in quite some time. I was fully prepared to polish up that fifth star. And then, for no apparent reason, quite bafflingly, Mr Peanut started to slide, eventually skidding out of control completely, leaving me very disappointed. With a sense of frustration that an author with such obvious talent should spiral out of control so abysmally. It prompts the same question as so many other overtly 'literary' first novels -- what in God's name do editors do these days? Isn't a major part of their job supposed to be to save gifted authors from themselves?
Ross can write vividly, and with great insight. It appears, however, that he has difficulty in knowing when to stop. This book is reminiscent of a different product spokesperson - it just keeps going and going and going, looping back on itself like one of the main protagonist's beloved Escher drawings. By the time it's all over the reader is left feeling like the unfortunate Marilyn Sheppard, that is, with the sense of having been bludgeoned repeatedly around the head with a blunt instrument until any possible whimper of protest has been silenced.
OK. I'm exaggerating slightly. But it depresses me that a writer as obviously smart as Adam Ross would choose to screw up what could have been a brilliant first novel by dragging in one lame postmodern gimmick after another. As the story opens, David and Alice Pepin's marriage is coming to a dramatic end, brought about by Alice's fatal anaphylactic reaction to ingesting the peanut mentioned in the title. Did she succumb to a bout of suicidal depression, or was it ... MURDER.... at the hands of the strangely detached David? Police detectives Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard are very interested in speaking with the grieving widower. As the author starts in on the series of flashbacks exploring the couple's marriage and how they reached that opening tableau, things seem to be proceeding along entirely conventional lines.
So naturally it must be time to dip in to our bag of grubby used postmodern gimmicks .... drumroll, please ..... ah, yes - it's the trusty "story within a story" device. See, it turns out that the circumstances of Alice's death correspond in every detail to the plot of the book that David's been working on for lo these many months. The fog of doubt enters the reader's brain (on its little cat feet) - OMG! Is what we are reading the true account of what actually happens? Or are we reading the story within the story? I'm sooooo konfused.
Fine. So the author seems to feel it necessary to jazz up his story with this entirely superfluous narrative gimmick. He wouldn't be the first. Auster, Borges, Flann O'Brien ... this trick goes all the way back to Cervantes. It doesn't add a whole lot, but it's relatively harmless. A minor annoyance. But, unfortunately, the shenanigans don't stop there. Apparently not just one, but both, detectives investigating the case have marital problems of their own. So the exploration of the Pepins' marriage is repeatedly interrupted by digressions whose inclusion is simply bewildering. The slow foundering of the relationship between Alice and David is mirrored by a (frankly implausible) impasse between Detective Hastroll and his wife, who just pulls a Bartleby one fine morning and refuses to get out of bed. For the next eight weeks. Subsequent developments are not good, and Ross wastes a good 30 or 40 pages in serving up this ridiculous subplot.
As you roll your eyes and try to ignore the sheer irrelevant vapidity of this digression, things suddenly get infinitely worse. Does the name of the second detective, Sam Sheppard, ring a bell? Why, yes. Detective Sheppard is none other than the infamous Doctor Sam Sheppard, Cleveland's 1950s version of O.J. Simpson, found guilty of brutally bludgeoning his beautiful pregnant wife, Marilyn, to death in 1954. After 10 years in jail, his conviction was overturned on appeal, but he never really recovered, and died in 1970. Sam Sheppard was a real person (widely believed to have been the inspiration for "The Fugitive"). By the time Alice meets her anaphylactic end, he has been dead for about 40 years. So his resurrection as Detective Sheppard in Mr Peanut is an obvious artifice, introduced for the sole purpose of allowing Adam Ross to indulge in a further digression, specifically a lengthy, highly detailed reimagination of the circumstances surrounding the murder of Marilyn Sheppard. This indulgence goes on for approximately 100 pages (hard to judge exactly on the Kindle). Nobody at Knopf seems to have questioned the reasoning behind dragging in this huge chunk of fundamentally extraneous material, on a topic that's already received more than its fair share of attention.
Assorted other tropes are deployed, not always to good effect. There's the sinister Mr Mobius, who (you'll never guess) keeps reappearing at various stages throughout the narrative, exuding a kind of Hannibal Lecter-ish menace, as he bargains with "Detective" Sheppard to see portions of David's manuscript. Then there's David's fascination with Mobius strips and Escher prints, loaded with symbolic import. It's a bit sophomoric, but in the scheme of things these are minor annoyances.
What pulls this whole mess back from the brink is this: Ross's examination of the marital difficulties of his fictional couple, Alice and David, is astoundingly good. So is his reimagination of the inner life of the Sheppards; it's intuitive and astute to the point of being a very convincing interpretation of the available data. (The interlude involving Hastroll's marriage is just an embarrassment, from start to finish).
The real problem may be that Ross doesn't have much confidence in his own ability. His account of the foundering marriage of Alice and David is extraordinary. The book he should have written would be about half as long as Mr Peanut and remain focused on this central relationship. It could have been brilliant. Instead he has given us this inferior bloated mess, in which he tries much too hard and sabotages himself at every step.
Nevertheless, I strongly recommend that you read Mr Peanut, despite its multiple flaws. Because when he isn't shooting himself in the foot, Adam Ross writes astonishingly well. You will never again think about marriage in the same way.
A cynical and ultimately manipulative psychological case study of the relationship between men and women, masquerading as a mystery thriller, I found MR. PEANUT ultimately unsatisfying.
Ross, in keeping with David Pepin's job as a creator of computer games, plays with the idea of alternate realities; multiple endings; unlikely intersections of fate and time. In games and puzzles this is terrific. But in a book that is supposedly a mystery story this comes off as the author's refusal to commit to an "ending" -- whether it be to the crime at the heart of the book (the death of Alice Pepin) or his take on whether or not Dr. Sam Sheppard killed his wife Marilyn (in the book, Sheppard is one of the detectives on the Pepin case).
Ross populates his book with a variety of disdainful characters that ultimately the reader couldn't care less about. The men are smug, shallow, selfish, adulturous; the women are either vain, self-centered shrews; doormats who allow themselves to be treated as objects; or passive-aggressive, manipulative bitches who use silence and illness to shut the men out of their lives.
Worse still, at times Ross' use of imagery is ham-handed. Alice, who has a peanut allergy, starts to call the image of the baby on her sonogram Mr. Peanut. Hmmm, can you tell that this isn't going to end well? Oh and did I mention that Alice's maiden name is Reese (as in Reese's peanut-butter cups, get it?). The hitman is named Mr. Mobius -- and a mobius strip is a surface that leads you in circles over every surface, front and back, without ever touching on anything twice. Like a mobius strip, this book takes you on the same frustrating trip. You feel as though you have traveled a great distance to cover every possibility and ultimately discover you have been led nowhere.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
There are moments in Hitchcock's Vertigo where the film seems ready to implode under the weight of so many layers of elaborate and unnatural artifice:
--the con game around doubles and desire in the film (X doesn't mean X, it means Y),
--the florid psychological thickets of symbol and image (X doesn't mean X, it suggests XY),
--the self-reflexive and overdetermined framing of every shot
--not to mention the echo chamber of Hitchockian context
Such game-playing, such showboating technical virtuosity
the deliriously melodramatic hyperbole of Stewart's Scottie. . .
I mean, seriously. Yet every time I watch this film, my eyes are drawn ever into each image, the constant swirling visual rhymes that seduce
Seduce is the perfect word. The hint of power in a verb signifying desire, or vice versa. I want to get lost in--but I also want to master--the story, these images, to pin down center of the vortex, to unwrap the hair, the cons, the auteur. But my desire isn't really my own. Hitchcock owns me.
There is something of such loss of self in every intense, intimate desire. Ross' novel, like Hitch's film, is a showboating blur of narrative tricks, a hall of mirrors, a noirish melodrama in a noirish melodrama in a noirish melodrama, each one of them lurid enough to make Douglas Sirk blush with sympathetic embarrassment at such a feverish vision. And yet. As with Vertigo, that artifice heightens the impact (and allure) of the central passions -- no plot or character helps us box emotion into a tidier package of themes and morals. Desire, rage, aggression, submission, fear, hatred, need . . . love. Kathrina wrote a lovely review noting that, in Ross' central protagonists David and Alice, there emerges a counterintuitive sympathy in the reader: hating Alice when David seems most to love her, loving/feeling for her when he's most furious. The reader mirrors--reverses, yet echoes--the passions in the novel. You get sucked in, seduced. Or, maybe, we see--we stare back, goggle-eyed like Scotty, trying to see, to really see... and seeing ourselves everywhere. Ross' novel may be a great meditation on the ambivalence found in--maybe even vital to--long-term intimacy and love; it is certainly a wickedly-inventive recreation of Hitchcockian tropes of desire, obsession, and violence which resist (if not refute) the detective's neat courtroom testimony about who done it and what done happened. But the artifice isn't simply showy, and neither are the overdetermined mechanics of psychoanalytic notions (Desire is Rage is Desire; identification is aggression is identity); it is crucial to the seduction: like Hitchcock's masterpiece, at its finest Mr. Peanut arouses the reader's sense of deja vu -- this has happened before. I've felt this.
My favorite moment in the film is far less showy, seemingly irrelevant to character development or (hyper)plotted narrative tricks or symbology. Novak rises from a table in a lushly-colored dining room, and walks out, the camera framing a profiled head-shot -- she's moving toward a bright light, blazing, red -- and away from shadows...
But while I'm tempted to tie it into my obsessive hermeneutical passions, what catches me in this moment is not the Image or the Artifice or the Symbol or the Frame which I would try to slow down and unpack, re-weaving it into a thesis. No, at this moment, I intensely gaze, as Madeleine (a whiff of Proust, motherfucker!--more text!) walks across the room, turned away from Scottie, turned away from me. It doesn't make much sense, but at this moment I come closest to merging with the film. The novel had a similar impact on me. At its strongest, Ross and Reynolds converged, and it was as if I was reading one of my own dreams--not quite logical, endlessly seeking a logic. The novel doesn't always nail it for me--and maybe, as this review suggests, what Ross does so well reminded me of someone who did it better than anyone has ever done it. But the novel really braces, and reads like a fever. Good stuff.
In Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross journeys into the dark underbelly of love and marriage by charting the course of three different relationships that impinge on each other. Principal among them is the marriage of David and Alice Pepin. The two met in a films class and have been married for thirteen years. David is still completely in love with Alice, but at the same time he fantasizes about her death, often in very ghoulish ways. Alice is severely overweight and allergic to a variety of things. Then one day she is discovered dead at the kitchen table, having suffocated from an allergic reaction to peanuts.
Two detectives, Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard, believe that David has killed his wife. They both know something about troubled marriages. Hastroll's wife has taken to her bed, apparently severely depressed, and refuses to get up. Sheppard was years earlier convicted of murdering his wife, Marilyn.
Much of the book consists of watching these three marriages ebb and flow, and most of it is pretty dark. The oddest part of it all is watching Ross channel the infamous Sam Sheppard murder case of 1954 through his fictional detective. Certainly the story of these three relationships would give any sensible person pause before heading to the Chapel of Love.
This is certainly not a traditional crime novel in any sense of the word, and in fairness, it's a book that you probably have to live with for a while before coming to any conclusions about it. At times it seems very inventive and intelligent, but at others it seems plodding and repetitious. It's an interesting read and, for the moment, I'm giving it three stars because I'm not yet sure what to really think of it. I may change my mind later, one way or the other.
Adam Ross' first novel, Mr. Peanut is a dark, sometimes harrowing and sometimes hilarious, tale of love, sex, hate, passion, diets, dreams of murder and the intoxicating illusion of everlasting marriage. It is extremely cleverly written, with a structurally complex narrative in which the characters whose lives are equally complex often interlock like a tapestry intricately woven, as if by M.C. Escher.
The introspective and often gruesome tale, overlaid with images of Escher’s weird mathematically themed work, and the visuals and structural narrative borrowed from contemporary first shooter video games, seems intent to put its finger on the fluxional disposition that is at the core of any romantic relationship. As the reader delves headfirst into the deeply strained and emotionally flawed relationship between the reputed murderer David Pepin and his late wife Alice, they are at the same time introduced to the equally tumultuous, woeful and recondite relationships between the detectives assigned to David’s case and their own wives. All three marriages share more than fleeting similarities, and they interlock in the readers mind exactly as a counterbalanced image of Escher, where things can shift, almost unnoticeable between black and white, up or down or affection and hatred. These seamless emotional shifts paired with the questions of how two people who were once in love, and began their relationship so happily can end up in such a dark place, where everything sometimes seems to teeter on the edge of destruction is what makes this novel a fascinating read.
There is no arguing that the overarching view is overwhelmingly male. It is rare that we get the opportunity to see things from a female perspective, and when we do it is only fleeting. We mainly observe the world through the eyes off the husbands, and yet the wives seem to all be withholding something, adding an element of intricate tension, as if there’s a latent risk the whole thing might blow up at any point. Each of the couples have their own problems, but they all seem so extraordinary familiar. Sam Sheppard is an obsessional philanderer, Hannah Hastroll feels invisible to her detective husband, who is oddly oblivious to her true feelings. David and Alice have through the heartbreaking failure of losing a child also lost their physical and emotive connection. There is an overarching feeling that each relationship is a dark mirror of the others, where things have been left unsaid for so long, that the partners tend to be suspended in a sort of tortured limbo, like characters in a video game waiting for the controller to return.
The novel is gruesome, sexy, emotionally disturbing, humorous and comforting all at the same time. It digs its claws deep into the perils of the human condition, and it offers a frightening yet strangely uplifting view of the wonders of romantic relationships.
Mr. Peanut is an odd book. I not so sure whether it's in a good way, or a bad way.
On the surface it's a straight up crime/mystery novel. Nothing to see here folks move along. It is a story of marriage, several of them and murders that happen along the way. But then the book gets all trippy, and you don't know for sure what is a "real" murder, and what's not.....maybe they all happened. I'll never tell. I'm not sure I even know at this point.
Part of this book is set in my stomping ground......
Adam mentions,Put-in-Bay an Island in Lake Erie on which many of my dead brain cells reside as well as my pissed off liver.
Avon Ohio, 20 minutes from here and very boring.....not much to write about there.
But then he mentions Sandusky, where I'm sitting right now. "Do you remember Sandusky.....ah Sandusky" as some romantic get away. I believe I laughed so hard my skinny vanilla latte came out my nose....a little. Sandusky is many things, it's got Cedar Point and water parks, but a romantic get away it is not. This may have been the most unbelievable part.
Mr. Peanut is a good book for the most part, but I felt the author tried a little too hard. He was going for "wow! I did not see that cool turn of events coming", but succeeded at getting a "what? Huh....ok then", from me.
Mr. Peanut is the novel of the moment, or one of the novels of one of the moments, anyway, and while I'm not completely in the tank, I am absolutely glad that the book has received so much positive attention. It deserves it.
As America's happiest blurbwhore Stephen King helpfully clues us in on, this is a book about the dark side of marriage. Not the suburban-anomie American Beauty/Revolutionary Road kind of dark side, but the kind of dark side that involves straight-up murdering your spouse—or at least considering the possibility. I have to say, I found this willingness to "go there" highly refreshing. Anyone can write a story about infidelity and the quiet desperation of a relationship gone stale. It takes a little more testicular fortitude to write a story about murder and set it in that same thematic universe of unresolved sighing.
The most frequent complaints about Mr. Peanut by naysayers stem from the book's "disjointed" storytelling or its "postmodern" structure of overlapping, echoing narratives. And all I can really do in response to that is shrug. If you're a James Woodite who's not on board with anything but straightforward psychological realism, then by all means erect a stubborn wall between yourself and this inventive, moving, perfectly accessible novel. Also, no offense, but maybe go fuck yourself? I mean, this isn't some heady, obtuse, pomo fuckaround; its narrative quirks are purposeful, thematically united, and in service of the book's ultimate emotional/narrative payoff, which is staggering and devastating and perfectly executed even if you've more or less guessed the "twist," such as it is.
It's best not to know much of the story in advance; by now you've picked up keywords like marriage, murder and unconventional narrative structure, and it would be wrong to reveal anything more specifically. Suffice to say that I think Ross pulls off his intricate narrative project on the macro level.
On the micro level, though, I have some reservations that keep the book in "very good" territory for me rather than "great," which reservations fall under one of two categories, going too far or missing the mark. Well, really only one instance of missing the mark: a set-piece that attempts to mine some suspense from a possible near-death experience. Despite the author's and the characters' fixation with Hitchcock, this is not really a novel of suspense, nor is it a set-piece-y one in general. So I found myself emptily turning pages in this section, barely registering sentences' meaning, waiting for Ross to get this out-of-place bit of perfunctory plotting out of the way. As for going too far, the primary instance of this, and my primary beef with the book, is the teeth-grindingly overlong section focusing on...well, I don't want to get into plot info, but it's an extended detour set in the past, going into near-absurd levels of minute detail about some not-that-compelling stuff. I get why this section's in the book—it's part of the echoey, deja-vu effect that enhances the book's ghoulish take on marriage—but it could have been half as long, or maybe even shorter than that, and still achieved the desired effect. Frankly, it's a terrible bore, and if Ross hadn't rallied for such a fantastic ending I might have been inclined toward a more ambivalent three-star review. Contrast this section with its mirror—the one about Ward Hastroll, you can just file that name away since I still don't want to get into plot specifics. Hastroll's section is so much more concise and dramatic and strange and fascinating and even suspenseful that it makes this other section seem all the more inflated and mundane. The Hastroll bit could almost stand on its own. Just a fantastic piece of writing there. But anyway, going too far—there's a bit involving a seminar on Hitchcock that is certainly interesting but not really germane to the book. I would not disagree with the word self-indulgent being applied there. Ditto a lengthy description of a prospective video game—cool, but I'm not sure why it's here.
Mr. Peanut is a shape-shifter, constantly adjusting and correcting and obfuscating the reader's perception of what exactly this book is. After the first 100 pages, I thought I was reading something like what I wanted Lars von Trier's Antichrist to be: a horror story in which the bogeyman is marriage itself. 100 pages later, I had cast that thesis aside and was deep in a head-scratching fog. And at the end, I understood that my initial idea wasn't completely off the mark, but that there was more to it, involving some pretty deep sadness, and how we seek solace in the creation and consumption of art, and how some sadness is too deep even for art to ameliorate. I wish it had been edited with a bit more scrutiny, but this is a really a damn good book that you should read.
P.S. I love the jacket description's little tagline: "a police procedural of the soul." It walks the line between cheesy and accurately awesome, not unlike my favorite movie tagline ever, for Arthur Penn's 1975 detective film Night Moves: "Maybe he would find the girl...maybe he would find himself."
Like Fight Club, but take out Tyler Durden and replace him with a complete pansy. Now you have two pansys just whimpering at each other.
Seriously, though, the book was good at times and bad at times. It's about the darker side of marriage. The focus is on this couple and it's mildly interesting. Then the wife dies by ingesting a mouthful of peanuts (to which she's deathly allergic). The police think murder, the husband thinks suicide.
Then the book just railroads into these crazy tangents about the detectives, including 100 pages (literally) of excruciating detail about the Sam Sheppard case (The Fugitive). By the time I got through that I didn't give much of a damn and I glossed over the big reveal which is something something that I didn't quite get. I suspect a bunch of other people didn't get it either, because it's spelled out in plain english with about five pages left to go. I can see the editor going "You know, this doesn't make a bit of goddamned sense, better just come out and say it somewhere."
Probably more of a 2-1/2 star review. I had to push myself to get through this one. By the end, I was mostly glad I saw it through. The last 50 or so pages redeemed some of the problems I had with the book. And ultimately, this is a significantly better book than I could ever hope to write, in terms of the writing, the plotting, the twists, the tying everything together.
Ultimately, though, I just found the themes of (1) women being murdered brutally by their husbands and (2) women being so emotionally distant/passive aggressive/needy with their seemingly loving husbands to be, well, disturbing and distasteful and disingenuous. There's only so much violence against and negativity toward women that a seemingly smart and presumably pro-woman writer can depict with loving precision before I suspect that he's getting off on it (see my beef with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series). And I had heard a lot of good reviews of the book, which made it especially disappointing.
Adam Ross' book, Mr. Peanut, should have been titled Mr. Penis. I read this book because it was hyped up all around town here in Nashvegas--Ross is a local author and newly formed celebrity. Mr. Peanut was released to incredible acclaim--the New York Times said Ross is a "sorcerer with words."From Publisher's Weekly we hear: "Ross's depiction of love is grotesque and tender at once, and his style is commanding as he combines torture and romance to create a sense of vertigo-as-romance. It's a unique book—stark and sublime, creepy and fearless—that readers into the darker end of the literary spectrum won't want to miss." I'm going to have to call FOUL on this one.
First of all, it's not just a man's book, but a misogynist's book full of phalluses and sex-starved/obsessed men. Not one man in the book (and there are many), thinks of sex in healthy way or treats the women in his life as anything less than meat. The woman are all crazy--two are literally bedridden on purpose, petulant, perfectly healthy women who "take to their beds" like southern belles with the vapors. All of the women employ the incredibly strereotypical "If I have to tell you what's wrong, then never mind" female mind$&%@$ crap. The book attempts to weave together a slew of murder mysteries. Then it's a flashback to a 1950's real murder of a doctor's wife and we get the exact same story told from three perspectives. The point of view in the book shifts from omniscient to limited third. There are strangely weak allusions to video game design. It's all very strange without a purpose, really, and Ross has tried too hard and failed.
This is the most negative review I've ever posted, but frankly, I'm mad that I spent so many of my reading hours on it. I've GOT to start putting away books I hate. When will I ever learn?
Two things I'm finding increasingly irritating in novels lately -- an excessively bleak view of human nature and postmodern gimmicks -- and here they are, together in one novel! Lucky me.
In Mr. Peanut we are treated to three dismal individuals in dismal marriages. The husbands philander because they can't communicate with their wives or because they're simply egotistical or both; the wives are distant and passive-aggressive, resorting to tactics like refusing to leave their beds (what the heck?); the couples somehow never succeed in addressing whatever issues underlie this behavior. Then there's the whole story-within-a-story thing (the man accused of murdering his wife is writing a novel about a man with his name who harbors fantasies of his wife's death). There's a weird omniscient guy named Mobius and sure enough, the whole book is structured like a Mobius strip with a plot line that twists and turns and keeps circling back onto itself.
I must say that as I listened to this book I alternated between depression (when I was actually following the story) and confusion (when I was spacing out or was otherwise lost in some subplot or another). Somehow, enjoyment never came into it. Yet I will grudgingly give this book a second star because I did see talent here. There was some strong writing and a lot of creativity, and although none of the characters was someone I'd actually want to meet, many of them were quite well-fleshed out which is something I value in a book.
But what a negative view of human nature! It made me want to shoot myself. I think I need to go reread Pollyanna now.
really probably more like a 4.5, but i'm rounding up because this guy's voice is just incredible. it's the kind of voice that makes you suddenly realize how similar most other writers' voices actually are. it's just effortlessly flowing, hypnotically propulsive, funny, sad, vivid, smart-- it's really just a marvel. every sentence is beautiful but devoid of that preciousness that so many writers seem to have which demands not just that you simply experience the beauty but also STOP AND STEP BACK AND GIVE THEM THEIR FUCKING CREDIT RIGHT THEN AND THERE AND TO HELL WITH THE BOOK THIS IS ABOUT ME THE WRITER. this whole book feels like a spiraling prison-dream and i just loved the hell out of it.
okay, downsides: 1) the character "mobius." i wish he wasn't called mobius. if he'd been called "herman" or something it would've been better. and 2) i just needed more at the end. not more book, more story, but more feeling, more catharsis. there's so much pent-up anger and love and confusion screaming around through this maze for 450 pages, the last paragraph really needed to just fucking destroy me. and it didn't. although it came close.
This book is fantastic, like super fantastic I mean you should immediately go to a store and buy it and then you should go sit down in the middle of the road and read it the second you leave the store. But don't read it in the store that is bad form. Unless you work in the store and are reading in the basement on your break, but then you will probably spend most of the time annoyed that the other 20 people in the room won't shut up so you would probably be happier outside, but I digress. The point is why aren't you reading this book yet?
I have a fundamentally belief that I have done better choosing books to read this year. I don't know that this is true although I could look at my goodreads statistics and find out since I fixed it so all my books say the year that I read them. I feel like I have given most books five star ratings although some of this maybe that I have quit more books this year than I have since I met greg and Karen, apparently the guilt I was getting over that is finally abating thankfully. I find it amazing how good I am at choosing books to read considering that I commonly don't bother to check what they are about until after I have committed to reading them. This book is one like that. It has an awesome cover. Several times I decided not to read it cause I figured it was just a crappy mass produced novel like so many other books that I have recently seen coming out, but every time I walked by the book and thought "how can such a pretty book be bad?" and Eventually I decided to borrow it from the store to find out. After William had signed the book out to me and I had it safely tucked away to come home with me I finally read the book summary. And to be honest I was on the fence about whether I should just go tell william I had changed my mind... A meditation on marriage... I don't really need that. Thankfully Ross had titled the book masterfully and I decided to give him a chance. And guess what? the man can write. I could tell ten pages in the man knows how to write a book. (as a side note I am not sure the man can write a second book, this novel very much has the feeling of "this is me and I am giving you my life" and authors like that such as chuck palahniuk tend to write the same book over and over simply because they can't quite make it out of their own heads. Sorry adam I'm sure you are a great guy but I just don't know you can do it).
On the other hand lets talk about the twist. Don't worry I won't tell you what and it is obvious this is one of those I'm going to have a twist books from the start. But guess what the twist is totally not obvious. At least it wasn't to me, I kept guessing twists and being wrong. In addition the twist occurred the second to last page. And as anyone who knows me knows I hate when a twist occurs and then I have to read another 100 or so pages. The authors who basically say ha I fooled you now I am going to fuck with you for another hundred pages. I generally end up taking days off till I stop fuming and then finally finish the book. I mean yes Ross could have ended right after revealing the twist but I forgive him those two paragraphs. Clearly he just wants everyone on the same page and while I don't need it, I forgive him this small fault just like I forgave nick harkaway and david trueba.
This book is fabulous it contains a multitude of plot lines and characters and possibly a few read criminal cases, which I now need to go look into.
A quote from the real Dr. Sam Sheppard opens the book in the epigraph, "I became or thought that I was disoriented and the victim of a bizarre dream." An appropriate beginning, prophetic for the journey the reader is about to undergo with this novel - a story within a story about marriage, murder, the search for a connection, the disconnect between who you think you are and how others perceive you. Certainly it is how I felt when I finished this dizzying book, and I loved every second of it.
David Pepin dreams of murdering his wife, until one day she is dead, and he is the suspect. Investigating him are Detectives Sheppard (a reimagined version of the real Dr. Sam Sheppard) and Hastroll, themselves having been victimized by long term, difficult, complicated marriages to Marilyn and Hannah, respectively. Also making an appearance is an odd contract killer befittingly named Mobius.
While I'm tempted to write effusively about this novel, I feel it would do the reader an injustice to know too much about it beforehand. The novel goes around and around all over itself, much like the non-orientable mobius strip constantly referenced.
But I will say this - this novel haunted and affected me deeply. I found myself identifying with characters and situations, so much so that I actually missed my subway stop. By the end I was questioning what parts were really real and what were just part of the story. And doesn't marriage feel like that sometimes? After years, decades of being together, your recollections both fuzzy, isn't it hard to tell what really happened and what was just told for the purpose of selling the anecdote?
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.)
I read this book full throttle like Thelma heading for the cliff. There was only one moment I had to come up for air -- just after the extraordinarily long aside concerning the Shepperd murder. That bit was fascinating and tone-perfect of itself, but maybe more than was necessary, and an odd obstacle to the forward spiraling of David and Alice's narrative. Can a book be "clever" without being labeled "post-modern"? Is that what post-modern means? The book is clever in plot-construction, use of deja vu, pop culture allusions, and stringing urban legend along a contemporary fiction. What I appreciate most is Ross' courage in tackling a scary place -- envisioning your spouse's death-- yet still convincing me that love and hate can coexist in a marriage, and can still be a successful marriage, depending on how you choose to respond to those emotions. David was a bit of a hero in my eyes, despite his possible guilt as a murderer. If it was me on that cliff trail in Hawaii, I'd have been walking home alone. In fact, I think, as a reader, I hated Alice most when David loved her, and sympathized with her most when David hated her. And then she pulls that let-my-death-be-a-lesson-to-you crap, just like what I hate about Thirteen Reasons Why and I hate her even more, just when David's feeling all sad. Or is he?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I'm still turning this book over in my head, so it's hard for me to write a review, even in my concise style. Let me just say that I flew through this book and have been thinking about it ever since I read the last page. If that's not a 5 star novel, I don't know what is.
After years of searching I have finally found the holy grail, a well-written clever (rather than just believing itself to be clever) post-modern novel. The conceit is common enough, several tales within a tale – a story being written that merges into the reality being lived by its writer, the detailed back stories of the two detectives sent to investigate the disappearance of the protagonist’s wife Alice, (one of which is the detailed recreation of the infamous Sam Shepherd case in the 1950’s where a respected doctor was found guilty – later overturned – of murdering his wife) but it works because it remains cohesive and doesn’t try to outwit the reader. The whole book is a study of marriage. Of how hard it is to spend years of your life with the same person without ever feeling resentful of the constant compromise, the circumscribed freedoms, the routine, the question of how to grow and change as an individual without growing apart. David has fantasies of his wife dying – being killed in a range of accidents – where he can be free of her without the pain of separation or guilt and he can fantasise about the new possibilities his new single status will open up to him. As in Holiday, the wife does not come off brilliantly but as both are told from the husband’s viewpoint of course the women are unreasonable and over-reactionary and in a further correspondence both couples find themselves pushed further apart after suffering a tragedy that should see them cleave to each other. Some aspects of the book work better than others, the story of Detective Hastroll’s wife who takes to her bed is overlong, unbelievable and lacks resolution whereas the story of Sam Shepherd is riveting and is a mirror to David’s marriage. The relationship between David and Alice is written with real perspicacity into modern relationships but Ross does indulge himself with an overlong section detailing a hike in Hawaii which I found boring. I found that the character of Alice was well written, David was less so. When, quite far into the book, we get a physical description of him it was very much at odds with how I’d imagined him and lacked continuity; Alice is obese and early on he describes having sex with her as feeling like Gulliver in the land of the Brobdingnag yet he is described as being big, overweight himself and almost bear-like with his thick, coarse, black hair. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise great book and I will certainly be reading more by him. Now time for a confession: I felt the prickling of tears at the ending. Something which I was not expecting and a rare occurrence for a stony-hearted cynic like myself but let’s keep that to ourselves.
i read this book because karen said it was great, and as always, she was right.Especially for a first novel, this is some seriously good writing.i read this in 2 sittings, and it would have been one if i hadn't started reading it very late at night and was just too tired to go on.anyway, it is that gripping that you hate to put it down.
it's fairly complicated so you have to pay very close attention as there is a lot of stuff going on all the time, with the three main sets of characters,all of whom are fleshed out well, so you feel like you know them all fairly well by the time the book is over.and there are a fair number of surprises too. i don't want to give any of the plot away...i hate that in reviews...but i finished the book thinking all marriages are a disaster and all men are pricks...and that's not really true, is it?
Adam Ross's Mr. Peanut is a train wreck of a book, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. You stop, you stare, you gape. Eventually you see there is order to the chaos, and as you trust the conductor to guide you through the next part of the journey, continue reading with one eye closed.
Only Mr. Peanut isn't about train wrecks. It's about marriage. Oh, wait. Same thing. (Ba-dum dump.) It's a cautionary tale about complacency and the need for partners to see each other anew.
But oh, it is so much more. It's the narrative equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing. If you're not familiar with Escher, Google him right now and look at his work. Go ahead. I'll wait.
I know, right? Pretty freaking cool. Here's how Ross describes Escher's drawings:
"Was there ever an artist who made the eye move as much as that Dutch master? Who invited and then thwarted your efforts to grasp the whole, at the same time making you feel trapped?...A man of pure white interlocked with a black gnome, the two-dimensional figures becoming three-dimensional as they split off from each other in the background, circling on separate paths toward a terminal encounter."
In his first novel (!), Adam Ross uses Escher's work as the key to understanding his structure. He uses Hithcock's movies as the key to understanding his idea of romance. He uses the plot of "The Fugitive" as the key to understanding his main character, David Peppin, who is writing a book. AND THEN Ross has the temerity, the utter gall to fold Pepin's novel into his own! It's like WTF, only now you're SURE the train is going to crash because how can he possibly keep up this momentum and still stay on the track? I rubbernecked my way through this one. It's dark, sometimes gory, always compelling.
Oh, yeah. The tile. It means something different in each of the narratives. (Did I mention he has three different narrative trains barreling down three different tracks? Or is it four?)There's the obvious reference to that dorky Planter's Peanut guy with the monocle, top hat and cane (somebody retire this creepy assclown, PLEASE), there's a reference to a tiny fetus whom David's pregnant wife, Alice lovingly calls her Mr. Peanut, and there's the nut itself, an unlikely but effective weapon in a most grizzly murder. There's also a character named Mobius (another Escher allusion) who is a little person, or if you're rude, a Mr. Peanut.
You will like this book if you are: 1) fond of dark mysteries 2) a careful reader 3) married 4) familiar with M.C. Escher and "The Fugitive."
You will not like this book if you are: 1) impatient 2) turned off by graphic violence 3) a person who idealizes romance 4) in it only for the plot.
And whatever you do, don't give this book to your spouse on your anniversary. You might get thrown under the train. I'm just sayin.
This book confused me & I'm kind of pissed at it for this reason. I suppose I have only myself to blame for my ignorance that Dr. Sam Sheppard was a real person - I'm not sure how I didn't know that, but when his section of the book began, all I could think was, "Harrison Ford? As in The Fugitive? Wha-?" He plays a big part in the book, both as a detective assigned to investigate the murder of Alice and as a 130 page interlude in the middle where he tells the story of his marriage & wife's murder to a dwarf who may or may not be a hitman. So this is a story of his life, but also about Alice and her husband David & how David may want to kill her but maybe not, and the gruesome miscarriages she suffers & how they affect their relationship. It's also marginally about another detective whose wife has taken to her bed and won't tell him why. It's well-written & fast paced and I just couldn't wait to see how it all tied together in the end . . . . and then I saw and I thought it sucked.
Apparently from the very beginning you've been reading a book that David wrote about his life which ends in Alice's murder, but in the book in your hands she actually dies during bariatric surgery. David's book (the one about the murder) is read & then eaten by the dwarf who Sam Sheppard was talking with. The dwarf also murdered Alice either by swapping her Wellbutrin with placebos or forcing her to eat peanuts. David may or may not have had anything to do with this. In his book. Which the dwarf ate. Because really, in the book you're holding which is the "Actually," she died on the operating table.
You are thinking that doesn't make a whole lot of sense & you are right. But perhaps forwarned is forwarmed & you should read this book anyway because it is good other than the silly ending & if you know the silly ending going in you won't be so disappointed. And now I will stop reading gruesome books about horrible murders & pick up some Wodehouse instead, because really, everything I've been reading lately has been freaking me out.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book is incredible, and it will seriously ***k you up. Don't read this novel in a terrible mood--I read it a month ago, on a sunny, oceanside weekend away, and still I'm haunted by it. I will say two things about the book. 1) The narrator, David Pepin, is a game designer who made his fortune on a game called Escher Exit, in which the various levels are taken from those perpetual-motion tessellations that M.C. Escher is famous for; bad guys are chasing you, and you have to try to escape. 2) The first two sentences of the book are: "When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God." So begins a wickedly, malevolently compelling and smart story of (let's call it) spouse-icidal ideation, a twisted möbius strip of a novel that folds back on itself. It is a perfect, dark machine much in the same way of Dan Chaon's AWAIT YOUR REPLY.
It's a treat cover to cover: there are messages hidden in the pointillist death's head on the jacket and in the title-page frontispiece, Escher's "An Encounter". And in the chillingly curt author bio, which notes that Adam Ross lives in Nashville, with his daughters and his wife.
MR. PEANUT is one of those books that you love but feel weird about admitting it. It's been a long time since I've read a debut novel so daring and accomplished: 5 stars, for sheer chutzpah.
The saddest thing about this book isn't the unrelenting misogyny or convoluted storylines and subplots; it's the fact that it receives such rave reviews from people who should know better. Maybe I missed something and the whole thing was meant to be some kind of ironic statement, but if so, it wasn't done well enough. Ross portrays the women in the book as totally irrational beings who cannot possibly be understood in any meaningful way by the men who pretend to love them. Meanwhile these same men have numerous affairs and spend most of their time wondering just what is causing their wives to be so unhappy. Hmmm... must be hormonal, right? Characters and subplots come and go, vaguely linked to each other, if only by the cluelessness and stupidity of the men and the misery of the women. So, actually, maybe it's not only misogynist -- it's actually misanthropic. The men don't come off any better than the women. Everyone is unpleasant. I wanted to quit early on, but I kept reading, hoping for some kind of redemption at the end. It didn't come. A lot of people seem to like this novel, but for the life of me I can't figure out why.
My brain needs cleansing after this . . . think it's time for some Margaret Atwood!
Adam Ross. I share your pain. You have written a wonderfully dark book, a piece of fiction born from the very real complexities of matrimony–the type of book that makes one uncomfortable as their minds begin to wander from the story at hand to their own stories at home. I suspect that combination is what has led so many folks to rate it poorly. Your book cover has a skull on it, and maybe a whole slew of readers just assumed it would be about skeletons, literally. Who knows?
What I do know, is it took me on a wild mental journey while I was reading it, and perhaps more importantly, usually for a few hours after I set it down in between sittings. The various stories are crafted superbly, and while there was a time or two that I found myself desperately wishing you'd get back to the primary narrative between David and his wife, I was always psyched that I didn't let my impatience get the better of me. Well worth the time I put against reading it, and I'll be very curious to see what you put your mind against next.
This is the part of a review where one might usually say something like, "not a book for everyone." I say bullsh*t on that. It IS a book for everyone, unfortunately, some people have and will continue to read it before they are truly ready for it.
Mr. Peanut is a remarkable novel. On a friend’s recommendation, I took a look at an advance copy and, once I picked it up, was unable to put it down. A meditation on marriage and love in the guise of a murder mystery (or, more accurately, a folded series of meditations on love and marriage each in the guise of its own murder mystery or possible-murder mystery), the book pulls off an incredible high wire act. On the one hand, Ross crafts a page-ripping mystery that any Hitchcock fan will adore. On the other, the book answers Kundera’s lightness of being with weight and darkness, exploring not the uniqueness of our experience but the heart-breaking commonality, the biological cadence and desperate psyche that makes us human.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story, as I hate spoilers, but I am recommending Mr. Peanut to all of my friends and plan to re-read it this summer. Along with The Corrections and The Enchantress of Florence, this novel has been one of my great reading pleasures of the last several years.