In Quick’s immensely likable debut novel, an emotionally damaged loser runs a complex pattern that transforms him into a hero we can all root for.
The narrator is 30-ish Pat Peoples. Pat has returned home to live with his parents in a New Jersey suburb following a stay in a Baltimore mental institution, whence he was committed after reacting irrationally to a breakup with his beloved wife Nikki. Determined to end his painful “apart time” from Nikki and win her back, Pat—a former history teacher who now struggles to regain mental acuity—works out like a demon in his basement gym and runs many miles daily, while assiduously “practicing being kind rather than right.” This isn’t easy, given the cold shoulder offered Pat by his sullen father (who lives and dies by his beloved Philadelphia Eagles); the clumsy attempts of brother Jake and best friend Ronnie to revive the old convivial Pat; and the WASPish presence of Ronnie’s wife’s sister Tiffany, recently widowed and obsessed with newly buff Pat to a very scary degree. Deftly timed surprises stimulate crucial revelations, and the full truth of both Pat’s sufferings and his own egregious contributions to them expand the novel’s basically simple comic-domestic texture into something far more disturbing, complex and, eventually, quite moving. If the novel were 50 or so pages shorter, it might have been terrific. But Quick allows it to bulk up needlessly, concocting too many scenes (e.g., at Eagles games) that are too similar to one another. Still, its judicious blending of pop-culture experience with richly persuasive characterizations (including a beautiful indirect one of Pat’s overburdened mom) make the book a winner.
A first novel that doggedly does its own thing (we’re reminded of Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes). Most readers will find Pat just about irresistible.