Pat, a volatile man in his early 30’s, has spent several years in a mental health facility and finally comes home to live with his parents in New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. Pat is in a difficult place, but he is determined to get back in shape, both physically and mentally, so that his wife Nikki will come back to him and end Apart Time. He sticks to a daily fitness routine of working out and running that would leave a professional athlete exhausted, he is meeting with a local therapist named Cliff, and he embarks on a mission to read all of the literary works that Nikki teaches to her high school English students in order to prove how devoted he is to her.
Pat has a volatile temper, but he is also an eternal optimist, believing whole-heartedly in happy endings and silver linings, even when everything around him indicates otherwise. His whole life is focused on getting Nikki back, but he has trouble adjusting to his old world. His mother cries often, his father won’t speak to him, and all of his family and friends refuse to talk to him about Nikki. He is glad to be reunited with his brother and his lifelong best friend, Ronnie. Ronnie’s wife, Veronica, has a sister named Tiffany who has plenty of problems herself. Tiffany’s a little odd, but she and Pat begin to spend time together – often silently – and to slowly become friends.
That’s the basic set-up, but there is so much depth to this novel, both in its plot and its emotions. A deep, abiding love for the Philadelphia Eagles football team is a bonding agent for Pat and his family and friends; a win could even mean that Pat’s dad will speak to him briefly. Their avid fandom (such an understatement!) provides a lot of the humor in the book. Anyone not from this area will probably think the author used a lot of hyperbole in those passages, but having moved here 25 years ago (and having made the mistake of going to an Eagles game in our Saints shirts), I can tell you firsthand that none of that is exaggerated!
Cliff the therapist is also a source of both humor and warmth, as he shares Pat’s fervor for the Eagles and tries to gently guide him back to real life. Pat’s – and Tiffany’s – journey back to a form of mental health that is acceptable to the rest of the world is at the heart of this novel, and it is heartwarming and also heartbreaking at times. And as an avid reader, I absolutely loved Pat’s honest critiques of the works of literature he reads!
The entire novel is told in Pat’s voice, and it is a unique and unforgettable voice. You root for him as he fights his demons and struggles to regain control over his life. Sometimes, he seems rather childlike, but I found that endearing – I think it makes him seem very authentic, as he learns to be true to himself. I absolutely love his focus on silver linings and this oft-repeated line which I think I will adopt as my own life motto: “I am practicing being kind instead of right.” He is one of the most memorable characters I have ever met in a book.
This novel was like a rollercoaster ride for me – I laughed out loud at many passages and teared up at others. I should note that not everyone in the book group agreed – a few were disappointed in the novel – but others, like me, were enchanted and delighted with it. Having already seen the movie did not in any way ruin the book for me because the two share many qualities but are different expressions of the same story. There was so much depth to the novel that wasn’t possible to fit into the movie, though I still highly recommend the movie – the dance scene alone is worth the price!
The Silver Linings Playbook is a moving, warm, and often hilarious story about mental illness and life that is ultimately uplifting and positive. The characters felt like friends to me, and I read the novel greedily, never wanting it to end. I am now very eager to read all of Matthew Quick’s other novels…and to watch the movie again!