The Silver Linings Playbook
289 pages (hardcover)
Silver Linings Playbook, the movie that was released in 2012, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as mentally ill and emotionally unstable individuals who meet, develop a weird quasi-friendship, and enter a dance competition together, is great. It was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture, (Jennifer Lawrence won for best actress— that was the year she tripped up the stairs and everyone fell in love with her for being so funny and “normal”). It has a 92% on the Rotten Tomatoes‘ Tomatometer. And (most significantly) Cooper and Lawrence won the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss. Here’s a refresher:
The movie was adapted from a book by Matthew Quick that was published in 2008. I’d never heard of the book before the movie was released, so I assumed that the book wasn’t worth reading. But my brother read it a few weeks ago and told me it was even better than the movie. So, I gave it a go.
The movie is authentic to the book in lots of ways, like:
- Both the book and the movie begin with Pat’s mom signing Pat out of a mental hospital (“the bad place,” where he thinks he has been for a few months . . . but has actually been for four years).
- Pat is obsessive, and there are two things about which he is particularly obsessed: working out (“alternating between sets of bench presses, curls, machine sit-ups on the Stomach Master 6000, leg lifts, squats, hours on the bike, hydration sessions (I try to drink four gallons of water every day, doing endless shots of H20 from a shot glass for intensive hydration)”) and his estranged wife, Nikki, from whom he is currently having “apart time” for reasons he can’t quite remember.
- Pat has a rough relationship with his dad, who is an Eagles fan of the highest order.
- Pat meets Tiffany at a dinner that his best friend has upon his return from “the bad place.” Tiffany is his best friend’s wife’s sister, and she has recently become a widow. Tiffany is dealing with some mental issues of her own. She is grieving her husband’s death (one of the ways she has chosen to deal with his death is by sleeping with as many people as possible) and is pretty volatile.
- Soon after they meet, Tiffany begins silently following Pat on his daily ten-mile runs (“I’m scouting you . . . To see if you are fit enough . . . I’m also scouting your work ethic, your endurance, the way you deal with mental strain, your ability to persevere when you are unsure of what is happening around you . . . .”). She eventually asks him to be her partner in a dance competition (“I’m afraid I will have to require a first-place victory.”). In exchange, she offers to be a super-secret liaison between him and Nikki.
- Tiffany and Pat practice for the dance competition like it’s a job. Tiffany does it because she wants to do well in the competition; Pat does it because he sees it as a way to finally end “apart time” with Nikki.
But my brother was right. The book is better than the movie. A few examples:
- Pat’s mental illness is much more complicated and authentic in the book than the way it is portrayed in the movie.
- Tiffany’s dance competition makes more sense—it’s better and funnier than the competition in the movie (I won’t spoil it by giving any further details).
- The relationships (the tension between Pat and his dad, the evolution of Pat’s relationship with Tiffany, Pat’s obsession over Nikki, Pat’s relationship with his therapist, Cliff) are more complex and realistic in the book than they are in the movie.
- The title is much more meaningful in the book. Pat is a true believer in happy endings. His obsession with Nikki is not just OCD; Pat insists on the power of positive thinking and the importance of optimism. He believes that there is a silver lining to every negative situation (especially “apart time” with Nikki). This is an important theme in the book (in a way that was not well conveyed in the movie) that plays out in a number of wonderful (sometimes surprising and funny, sometimes sweet and touching) ways.
Author Matthew Quick’s biggest strength is writing real and straight-forward voices. Pat, as the first-person narrator, is believably and complicatedly mentally ill. His voice is a little disturbing, a little odd, and very funny (“My other friends are in music relaxation class, which I do not attend, because smooth jazz makes me angry sometimes.”). And, because Pat doesn’t have all his ducks in a row, you understand very early on that he is not a reliable narrator (“I figure weaker people probably complain about their drugs, but I am not weak and can control my mind pretty well.”).
Despite the fact that Tiffany’s voice is expressed only through quotations and letters, Quick succeeds in making her voice equally but uniquely crazy:
“Crawl!” Tiffany yells. So I crawl on the hardwood floor of her dance studio. “Crawl like you have no legs and you haven’t eaten for two weeks and there’s a single apple in the middle of the room and another man with no legs is also crawling toward the apple. You want to crawl faster, but you cannot, because you are maimed. Desperation flows out of your face like sweat! You are so afraid you will not get to the apple before the other legless man! He will not share the apple with—no, no, no. Stop! You’re doing it all wrong! Jesus Christ, Pat! We only have four weeks left!”
Pat and Tiffany are both flawed, but they are supremely lovable characters. They are weird and quirky and quick-tempered and unstable. And you can’t help but root for them, despite their bad choices and volatile behavior.
The book reads very quickly. It’s light and fun but not mindless. And, best of all, the ending (don’t worry; no spoilers) is beautiful and perfect.
Who should read it: Lindsay (i.e., people who loved the movie and enjoy quick, engaging reads with fun characters).
One final note: Thank you, John, for the recommendation!
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for June 2014 and pick for the June 2014 Indie Next List)
- Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (an August 2014 LibraryReads List selection by the author of Away)