By Adam Ross
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780307454904, April 2011, 464pp.)
The Short of It:
Amusingly dark and witty.
The Rest of It:
Mr. Peanut is a story within a couple of other stories. The story that takes place in present day New York, is that of David Pepin’s. David is a computer game designer and his wife Alice teaches troubled children. They’ve got plenty of money but they are unable to have children of their own and they are as unhappy as a couple can be. Unhappy, times ten. She is obese, obsessed with dieting even though David seems to like her fat, and deathly allergic to peanuts. The two are so at odds with each other, that David spends hours fantasizing about her death. Killing her himself, to be more specific. So when Alice ingests peanuts and dies from anaphylactic shock, is it an accident? Did David have something to do with her death?
The second and third story, revolve around the two detectives investigating Alice’s death. One detective, Ward Hastroll, has his own marital issues. His wife Hannah has been bedridden for six months for no apparent reason. When he is not investigating the case, he is home with her, tempting her and trying to lure her out of bed. The other detective is Sam Sheppard who bears the name of a philandering osteopath from the 195o’s that murdered his pregnant wife, Marilyn. Much of the book is spent telling the story of the Sheppard from the 1950’s and at times, I found this story line to be more interesting than David’s, but how it plays out and why it’s even mentioned is totally bizarre to me.
As you can tell, this book is not your typical police procedural. In fact, it was difficult to tell what was going on at any given point in time since David’s profession as a game designer, often leads you to believe that he is fantasizing about something or dreaming up subplots in his head. In addition to the game designing gig, he is also writing a novel so when you read Mr. Peanut, you’re not sure if Ross the author is telling the story, or if David has somehow come to life, hijacked the story and run away with it.
This might seem like a total cluster-F of a story and in a lot of ways, it is but I enjoyed it immensely. It’s entertaining to read about screwed-up people and these folks have issues. Their hatred for one another has no boundaries and you end up not liking any of them, but somehow I was okay with that. Their daily interaction mimics (precisely, I might add) what a long married couple experiences daily. The numerous annoyances that make you bristle practically leap off the page, but most people don’t take it to the next level and fantasize about killing their significant other. Do they? That’s what makes this one so rich.
BUT, and there is a little BUT. If you expect this to be a cut and dry police procedural you are barking up the wrong tree. You won’t find that here. You will find yourself completely absorbed with the problems of one couple, only to be rudely shifted to the problems of a different couple. The jerking back and forth is both welcome and jarring. Almost the entire story is told by the males involved, which gives it a lopsided feel and the investigation is all over the place. From the start, you have little confidence that these two detectives will figure it out and in the end, there are numerous alternate endings that leave the true ending up to the reader.
If you appreciate a unique story, written in a non-traditional way, that may or may not be poking fun at the sanctity of marriage, then you will enjoy this book. When reading it, I didn’t want to stop and when I HAD to stop, all I wanted to do was pick it up again. It’s a book to be read in the moment, without picking it apart to figure out the whys. Just read it.
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