Like almost everyone else, I watched The Silver Linings Playbook before I read the book. First, let it be known that I actually did not like The Silver Linings Playbook movie (I’d go as far as to say that I really, really did not like it). There was fantastic cast and a promising beginning – an examination of the effect mental illness has on the sufferer and the family – but ultimately the movie was shallow, played into the ‘love solves mental illnesses’ cliche, and the ending was so silly and unrealistic that I am still confused as to how the movie is critically acclaimed and loved by all.
But, I am not here to talk about The Silver Linings Playbook movie (though I may draw from it to make comparisons of why the book succeeds and the movie does not). I am here to talk about the book.
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick follows our protagonist Pat Peoples, a sufferer of an undisclosed mental illness who believes in looking for the silver lining and believes that his life is a series of movies, complete with montages, expected and deserved endings for its characters, and a climax where he wins his wife, Nikki, back.
At its very heart, The Silver Linings Playbook is a quirky, sweet and endearing novel that raises important questions of family, mental health and perspectives in life. Pat Peoples has a simplistic outlook in life, and that really shines through his narrative (without it becoming too repetitive or condescending to the reader). The narrative is simplistic, but I think this sort of childish narrative has a sort of charm, especially Pat’s willful ignorance to maintain his naive and optimistic perspective in life. He speaks with a self-unaware tunnel-vision that is difficult to ignore, and somehow Quick pulls it off and he isn’t detestable.
American football has a distinct presence in The Silver Linings Playbook. At first, I was very cynical of this, since I personally do not care very much for sports, or books about sports. Instead, what I discovered was the presence of sports in this book was not because the sports was important, but because American football is irrevocably intertwined with Pat’s life, as well as how he makes sense of the relationships in his family. As Pat’s family is heavily invested into their beloved Eagles team, this has a significant impact on the relationship he has with his father (and to an extent, his brother as well) – for better or for worse.
What I found particularly poignant was the nature of Pat’s father within his family; his emotions, moods and how he treats his family are dependent on the football team’s success. (Spoilers; highlight to view:) Throughout the novel, I couldn’t help but to share Pat’s optimism and hope for his father to change his ways and to become a different man who had more compassion for his wife and son. But we discover in the end that some people just do not change, no matter how much others depend on that person to change. And I think it’s a tragedy. (Spoilers end.) Essentially, the sports isn’t part of the gamble Pat’s father makes with his friends (as portrayed in the movie), but the American football becomes a means for Pat to reconcile and establish a healthy relationship with his father.
The characters of The Silver Linings Playbook bear a unique kind of authenticity; the characters are fleshed, interesting and all compelling and relevant, but also deeply familiar. I deeply sympathized with Pat’s mother, and Pat’s father and his stubbornness shook and aggravated me to my very core. I really liked Tiffany’s characterization in the book, and I felt like her confession in her final letter to Pat gave her the substance that her movie-counterpart did not have.
The ending is also an important aspect that I want to talk about. Most of the reason why I feel a lot of disdain towards the movie is because the ending struck a wrong chord with me; as I mentioned earlier in the review, something that both the movie and book do is examine the impact mental illness has on its sufferers and those close to them. However, towards the end of the movie, this examination is forsaken for an ending that seems to imply that love solves mental illness, which is a misconception I do not condone, and spirals out of control into something disjointed from reality.
What the book does right, however, is that its overall message is that mental illnesses – or traumas, setbacks or bad things in life – are overcome not immediately and miraculously but through a slow, gradual process of acceptance and healing. Though the ending isn’t entirely conclusive, it ends on a heart-warming note as it closes a difficult chapter in Pat’s life as he reaches an understanding that is both beautiful and validating of the whole novel, and furthermore portrays recovery of mental illnesses in a much more sensitive and realistic manner. (Spoilers; highlight to read:) Pat realizes that his ‘love’ for Nikki was comprised of the very idea of her – that she was the key to his self-acceptance, forgiveness, or a symbol to prove that he had changed – and that she, as an individual, was not the right companion in the next chapters of his life. “Nikki would not have done this for me, even on her best day.” What a bittersweet but beautiful and necessary revelation. (Spoilers end.)
The Silver Linings Playbook was an unexpected read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (even the football parts). I’ve omitted many important details in this review, but I think those details are better left read first-hand by readers. Though The Silver Linings Playbook isn’t intended to be insightful or wholly intelligent, it is sensitive, honest (though not daringly so) and actually kind of sweet. Ideal for readers who are looking for an easy, enjoyable and quirky book.
Book Name: The Silver Linings Playbook
Author: Matthew Quick
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux