The author of The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick, has achieved in his new novel The Reason You’re Alive a kind of sleight of hand trick: he presents a central character that is anathema to sympathy, and through a journey of comparatively reluctant self-discovery, becomes sympathetic.
It’s a supremely well written piece; a beautifully crafted character study which Quick has quite ingeniously penned from a single point of view. Dialogue exchanges are minimal by the very nature and structure of the novel (it’s told as a testimony of sorts, almost like a structured stream-of-consciousness rant ‘for the record’), but Quick’s prose and characterisations are sharp, and quite highly informed through his central character’s descriptive language.
His protagonist, David Grainger, is very much of a certain generational type: a returned serviceman from Vietnam, emotionally scarred by the experience, and subsequently operated on to aid him through bouts of epilepsy. Born of an era, relegated to a way of thinking that places characteristics and stereotypes as a matter of fact on race, gender, background. That he has to adjust his thinking to fit into the world he no longer helms is more than a little challenging to him.
But its Quick’s (through David) rationalisations of decidedly un-PC thoughts and language which ring the most true – like so many men of his generation, it’s as set-in-stone as any gospel, that things are as they are. People of this group behave this way, and these are bad, this is good, and words that I use are my own and they never used to be ‘offensive’. Part of the novel’s success is found through the way David becomes begrudgingly enlightened about any number of things, that he can, again, begrudgingly, discover that his preconceptions and prejudices are perhaps without merit, that new schools of thought are not outside the realm of possibility.
The Reason You’re Alive is an optimistic tome for the emerging Trump era – that amid notions of American exceptionalism, the tirade against political correctness and the very scary (to the boomers) notion of privilege needing to be acknowledged, owned, checked, we can find in a character like David an example of how change is possible; insight, compassion and selflessness is possible; thinking outside the box, embracing change is within the grasp of even the most conservative or recalcitrant thinkers. And it’s through Quick’s insightful character study that the journey of an ornery, bitter and disturbed veteran can have the substantial impact this fine novel delivers.
Now available through Picador
$29.95; trade paperback.