MR. PEANUT by Adam Ross
52 Books in 2013 Challenge: #36; Finished July 4th 2013
Well Jeez —— this book was incredible in a way that was really unexpected because I thought it was just going to be a fun crime novel, a good summer beach read, in fact I’ve put off reading it for so long: it’s been sitting on my “to-read” shelf on GoodReads and even loaded on my Kindle for almost a year now; but I don’t read reviews much, not more than to just look at average star counts by friends I trust and reviewers I follow, so I wasn’t really prepared that this fun crime novel was going to be a smart, postmodern, story-within-a-story, fun crime novel.
You shouldn’t know much about this book going into it but you should read it. What you can know: David Pepin loves his wife, who can’t stop fluctuating between obese and fat until she finally, after putting their marriage through the wringer, succeeds at reaching and maintaining her goal weight, becomes the tiny 130 pound woman she always wanted to be. But her journey is not celebrated: this is a book about men and men are assholes. We see everything through the male gaze so what David sees is not his wife transforming, he sees her disappearing — over and over he uses that term to describe her: disappearing. Vanishing. He loves her no matter what her body looks like but her need of support, her ocasional break downs, her post-it note encouragement, her food’s labels, her secret meetings, and her diminishing sex drive is enough to drive him to murder. And he begins to dream of Alice’s death. And then she dies.
I need to brush up on my wife killers though, or be better about looking things up, because when the book opened to a quote:
I went back upstairs and looked at my wife and felt and checked her pulse on her neck and determined or thought that she was gone. I became or thought that I was disoriented and the victim of a bizarre dream.
- Statement from Dr. Sam Sheppard taken at the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, Cleveland, OH, July 10, 1954, after consultation with his attorneys
When the book opened to that quote, I had no idea who Dr. Sam Sheppard was, nor did I realize the character of Dr. Sheppard was a fictionalized version of the real Dr. Sheppard, when he reappeared halfway through the book, but I ate up that story line anyway, so delighted that it was a STORY WITH IN A STORY, I’m just a sucker for postmodern devices, and this one is well crafted and such a perfect mirror of the first onion layer story, proof that men really really really are assholes.
You can know this too: Dr. Sam Sheppard is a man who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in the 50’s. He was later, 10 years later, I think, acquitted. In real life, he died in the 70’s. In MR. PEANUT, Dr. Sam Sheppard, please don’t call me doctor, medicine career is over after his stint in the big house but now he’s a detective. Yes, this seems implausible to me too, but when you suspend your disbelief, his onion layer — which is really the center of the onion, the part that makes you cry when you cut into it — is very strong writing that helps the novel at large, as if that part of the book could be standing in a cave and all the story around it is affected by its echo of greatness.
That said, Dr. Sheppard is not a great man. Neither is David Pepin or Hastroll (though I need to reread the book before I really get a hold on this Hastroll character, or at least a map). None of the men are great, of course, because how else could we believe they maybe could be, probably not but what if, or maybe yes definitely killed their wives? There were several moments in reading this where I felt uncomfortable. According to the blurbs, MR. PEANUT is supposed to be about the dark side of marriage or something, but it’s really about men who hate women. Adam Ross is aware of his gender’s misogynistic tendencies:
Women, for instance, almost always kill their spouses in self-defense. It’s a proven fact. There are exceptions, of course, but nine times out of ten, when a wife has shot, poisoned, or stabbed her husband, you’ll find a man who somehow deserved it.
Men, meanwhile, usually kill their wives for one of four reasons: money, sex, revenge, or freedom.
In MR. PEANUT, men are creatures who desire escape more than anything else. Starting over. New names, new women. Women may disappear and reappear, always sexualized, always bending over in the front seat of a car, yet somehow also always on top, always riding his penis with her tiny pussy, or else naggy and allergic and so dull, complaining about being cold when driving through the fog late at night in a convertible with the top down instead of doing what an exciting woman would be doing which is sucking him off, I guess, or begging him to pull over and put it inside her.
One of my favorite aspects of this book was the blending of reality and fantasy. We’re set up for this immediately: David Pepin dreams of his wife dying and she dies. But then we flashback to her life and all the circumstances leading up to her death so that could have been the end of it, but it isn’t! One of my favorite parts illustrating this:
Hastroll pulled his switchblades, then changed his mind and drew his gun, shooting the knife from the man’s hand and emptying a round for good measure into each of his knees. “Stop,” he said, “or I’ll shoot.”
There is also some story telling that maybe goes on too long and is maybe a little too weird, that you may see as gimmick-y, depending on your tolerance for it. I enjoyed the weird Hawaii parts, the invention of SLSD syndrome (Sudden Loss of Suspension of Disbelief), the palm reading, the airplane.
And there is the Hitchcock inspiration, the self-awareness on the author’s part, perhaps begging us to see this as a suspense novel, even defining suspense for us, reminding us that we know more than the characters, have insight they don’t have and the ability to theorize the twists. Again, I ate this up, pretention and pretense and all.
Oh please, really, read this book.
About halfway through, I came across this, something one character is saying to another:
"Perhaps it’s simply the dual nature of marriage, the proximity of violence and love."
So there you go.