Thursday, November 28, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

My introduction to writer Matthew Quick was through The Silver Linings Playbook, the Oscar Award-winning movie based on Quick’s novel of the same name. I knew the movie was an adaptation of the book, but I didn’t know Matthew Quick, or any of his work. The cover of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock comes with a blurb that identifies Quick as the author of Silver Linings Playbook, and I was so incredibly excited for that connection. I recently saw Quick speak on a panel about “grit lit” along with Matt de la Pena, and had the opportunity to pick up his books. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has made my list of favorite books this year. I read it in one sitting, and did not want to put it down at any point in the story. It is that compelling, engaging, and beautifully written, and I wanted to start it again after closing the back cover.

On the morning of his eighteenth birthday, Leonard Peacock wraps his grandfather’s P-38 Nazi handgun in pink wrapping paper and puts it in his backpack. He is taking it to school with the intention of killing Asher Beal, the guy who used to be his best friend. He carries several other presents in his backpack, too, in order to pass them out to a few individuals in his life: the older man named Walt who lives next door (they watch Humphrey Bogart movies together), Baback (who plays the violin every day at lunch and lets Leonard listen at the back of the auditorium), his teacher Herr Silverman (who teaches a history class about the Holocaust), and a teenage girl who passes out religious propaganda. The format of the book is mostly concerned with Leonard’s day, but intricate footnotes appear on almost every page, as well as “letters from the future” that are addressed to Leonard from who he imagines as his future wife, daughter, and friend.

Leonard’s depression is tactile and devastating, and even though he jokes about his day and his intention, the reality of his mental state is never far from the surface. The day that Leonard details is actually his eighteenth birthday, and the repercussions from the fact that everyone has forgotten about it are much more realistic here than in something like Sixteen Candles. Leonard is truly alone in his small world, and he does not have any intention of going gently into adulthood. Killing Asher Beal will be, for him, a murder-suicide. Leonard reveals how he used to take days off of school to put on a suit and carry a briefcase onto the train, following unsuspecting adults and trying to find one who was happy with their life. He can’t identify even one, and his “practice-adulthood days” only contribute to his depression.

The moments where Leonard identifies small truths about high school on his last day there are some of the most brilliant in the novel. Leonard knows Hamlet and Macbeth inside and out, and quotes Macbeth in a footnote. He says, “I gleaned that little nugget of anti-life-affirming wisdom from last year’s English class, when I had to memorize Macbeth’s soliloquy. Public school can be a real shot of lithium, let me tell you. It’s crazy the pessimistic shit we’re made to memorize in school and then carry around in our skulls for the rest of our lives.” Herr Silverman, the only teacher at Leonard’s school who actually sees and believes in his students, is one of the highlights of the book, and his conversations with Leonard show off some of Quick’s best and most affecting writing.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was one of the best books I’ve read this year, with exceptional writing and a story that stands head and shoulders above so many others. I have a few of Quick’s other books to read next, but I also know that this one will certainly get a second or third read. It’s certainly a story that sticks around well after the book is over.

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