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A Pick From Pearl

Awww shucks. I know that's hardly a usual way to begin a book review, but it was my immediate response to finishing Matthew Quick's heart-warming, humorous, and soul-satisfying first novel, The Silver Linings Playbook. I also thought of starting off the review with a photo of me hugging the book and grinning like an idiot--I liked it that much. Thirty-year-old Pat Peoples, a former high school history teacher, finds himself being sprung from a Baltimore mental institution and taken home by his mother. He's convinced he was in the hospital for only a few months, and really has no idea why he was sent there in the first place. What he does know is that Nikki, his wife, wants some "apart time," as Pat calls it. But Pat is bound and determined to win her back, because he believes in happy endings and silver linings, despite the fact that his father won't even talk to him, there are huge gaps in his memory, and he's become addicted to working out. As Pat slowly begins to remember and come to terms with the painful realities of his past, he's aided by an eccentric (but effective) psychiatrist named Patel (who shares Pat's love for the Philadelphia Eagles football team) and Tiffany, the widowed sister-in-law of his best friend, Ronnie. I could go on for several paragraphs, telling you why I'm still smiling when I think about this book, but let me limit it (with difficulty) to two: first, I loved reading Pat's critiques of classic fiction like The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, The Bell Jar, and, especially, A Farewell to Arms, which he reads because he's trying to become the person he thinks Nikki (an English teacher) wanted him to be. Second, I never realized that the Philadelphia Eagles inspired such dedicated, intense, and, may I say, crazed-with-love, live-and-die-with-their-team fanatics. The scenes set around the football games are hilarious--indeed, the only way Pat and his father can seem to communicate is when the Eagles are on television. (As I write this, the Eagles are still in the thick of the NFL playoffs--I can only imagine what's going on in the minds of Dr. Patel, the Peoples family (all of whom seem very real to me), as well as the hundreds of thousands non-fictional Eagles loyalists.) I think it's too bad that critics (and judges of literary awards) tend to undervalue what's called "light fiction." Along with The Silver Linings Playbook, so-called light fiction, like James Collins' Beginner's Greek, Steve Kluger's Last Days of Summer, Stephen McCauley's The Easy Way Out, and Elinor Lipman's My Latest Grievance all offer us hours of reading pleasure. Which, in my opinion, is not something to be taken lightly.