Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
What would Alfred Hitchcock think of Mr. Peanut? The director and his works are
obviously influences on Adam Ross.
Ross's protagonists met at a university class on Hitchcock's films. Minor characters
in the novel share names with characters from his films (occasionally
anagrammed). Hitchcock's attitudes toward women and marriage are simpatico with those in this novel. An entire thesis could be written on the connections between Hitchcock and
And yet Hitchcock would likely have been disappointed by the book, because Ross
lets gimmickry get in the way of a coherent, unified story. Ross squanders a promising premise—David
Pepin, a highly successful computer game programmer, who fantasizes about the myriad ways his wife might
die (including by his own hand), falls under suspicion when his wife really does
die. Her death might be murder or suicide.
David writes down his fantasies, hiding the fact that he's working on a novel from his wife—just one of many secrets in their marriage. Alice, who
teaches troubled children, ballooned to nearly 300 pounds since they met. David doesn't mind, but
she's depressed about her condition, and her yoyo dieting and unstable moods
him. Their relationship reaches a crisis after she miscarries on a flight to Hawaii.
Instead of returning to the mainland, she insists on going on a hazardous mountainside
adventure trek that
is beyond her abilities, an outing that could easily have fulfilled David's
After they return home, Alice disappears for months, during which time
David engages in an affair while professing to miss his wife. He ultimately
hires a bizarre private investigator named Mobius, to whom he idly mentions his murder fantasies.
The detective's name calls to mind M.C. Escher, the Dutch artist admired by
David whose work often contained impossible images and intricate
mosaics composed of common objects.
When Alice returns, she's a new person. A much smaller person. David doesn't
understand the change in Alice's attitude, but he's desperate to salvage their marriage.
He wants to get away with her and start over, picking up on a request Alice made
before she left. She mocks him for considering her proposal only
when it's convenient to him.
David claims that Alice ate the fatal peanuts by herself, that his injuries occurred
while trying to save her. The two detectives assigned to the case have their own marital issues. Detective
Hastroll was happy until his
wife took to bed one day and stayed there for five months. She refused to tell
him why as he tended to her every need, but he grew frustrated
with her passive aggressive taunting. "You still don't get it," she told him every time he
thought he was on the verge of a breakthrough. Hastroll believes David murdered
his wife. He had his own fantasies about dispatching his wife in a manner
similar to the one depicted by his namesake in Rear Window.
The other detective, inexplicably, is Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was found guilty of
murder in 1954. He claimed a home
invader killed his wife while she slept. His conviction was overturned years
later, and he was
subsequently acquitted in 1966. His case may have inspired the TV series
The Fugitive. Perhaps because of his experience
(though the time frame is badly off—he should be nearly 90 at the time of
Alice Pepin's death), Sheppard
thinks David is innocent.
Ross implies that there's a kind of extrasensory communication between
spouses, yet he suggests that spouses are pathologically incapable of saying things that might rectify critical
misunderstandings in marriages. He also denies any middle ground between a happy marriage and an unhappy one. The only solution to the latter that his male characters
come up with is homicide. None consider couples therapy or divorce. It's feast or famine. Not every heart is
criminal, though, and every marriage isn't a long, slow double
The book's biggest problem (outside of some improbable characters, such as an infinitely helpful airline customer service representative) is the fact that it seems
cobbled together out of pieces that don't fit. Though there are thematic connections between the Pepin marriage and the
marital issues of Detective Hastroll and Detective (formerly Doctor) Sam Sheppard, these set pieces go on for far too long, presenting the same situations over and over again, with the reader in possession of a few more details each time. The story of Sheppard's wife's
murder and Sheppard's infidelities and marital shortcomings, told at Mobius's insistence as quid pro quo for information about his involvement with
David, could almost be a book by itself. It's a fascinating pas de deux,, but it takes readers away from the Pepin storyline for
long, as does a lengthy exposition on Hitchcock's movies and life
that is ultimately irrelevant except as a way of restating an
already obvious theme.
David likens marriage to writing a novel: the middle is long and
hard. His book shares passages with Ross's novel, and it is entirely possible
that they are one and the same—that the events Ross describes are merely David's fantasy. Ross, too, seems to despair at finding a resolution for
his book. Pepin's writer's block is symptomatic of Ross's inability to reconcile all of the components of the book into a unified whole.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2007-2010. All rights reserved