Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: 'Mr. Peanut' a tough nut to crack

Review: Mr. Peanut
By Adam Ross

     In Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross poses the question is a husband responsible for his wife's death if he has ever, however idly, wished for or imagined her dead. He does this with the frame story -- the wife of video game/software designer David Pepin is dead and he's a suspect -- and the stories of the marriages of the two detectives investigating the death, one of whom turns out to be the infamous Dr. Sam Sheppard -- who, in the reality of Ross' novel, became a police detective after his retrial and release.
     Parallels are drawn between all three marriages, starting with Pepin, than segueing to police detective Hastrol, before shifting to Sheppard for a lengthy examination of the true Sheppard case (believed by many to be the inspiration for the TV series The Fugitive). The plot is further complicated by the fact that the narrator is of the unreliable variety, and that at least some of the passages are from the novel Pepin has been writing in which he may or may not have murdered his wife.
     I can't really tell you anymore of the plot than that without revealing the book's twist. I may already have revealed too much.
     I enjoy some stories with intricate structures and conceits, but I found Mr. Peanut maddening. If Ross wanted to do a fictional retelling of the Sheppard case, I might enjoy reading it. Stuck in the middle of these other two stories, it starts to feel like piling on. Readers (at least the two in this household who have read it) start to wonder if Ross' marriage is as bad as his characters' and if there is any point to it besides ca-ca happens and/or men and women can't truly communicate.
     There is an extensive interview on Adam Ross's website about the writing of the book, in which he explains that some parts are based on or inspired by his marriage, but that his marriage is a happy one, at least on some days. I find that reassuring, but it doesn't increase my enjoyment of the novel.
     I guess I'm glad I read Mr. Peanut, but I didn't like it, and I can't recommend it.


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