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Earnest, Lovable Loser Yearns For 'Silver Linings'

Even Judd Apatow-loving, Kevin Smith-defending Nick Hornby devotees are bound to roll their eyes at some point, so ubiquitous has the charmingly arrested child-man of films like Knocked Up and High Fidelity become. The urge is to holler, "Grow up, already!" The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick's much buzzed about debut novel, features a protagonist who is, for a change, earnestly doing his best to forge his way into adulthood.

Pat Peoples has just returned home to his parents' house from a long stay in a mental hospital. He's not sure how long he's been gone, but judging from the reactions of his friends and family, it's been a while. Keeping him sane is his unyielding belief in Hollywood-style silver linings a la Rocky and Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

In order for the credits to roll, our heroes have to flip the bird at adversity and emerge triumphantly changed. Pat's wished-for happy ending is a reunion with his estranged wife, Nikki — an end to what he calls their "apart time." He's prepping for it with an exhaustive running and weightlifting regimen, reading the syllabus for Nikki's American literature class, practicing the art of "being kind rather than right" and reconnecting with his father and brother while cheering for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles.

Nothing, of course, is going the way he expected. His Eagles are losers, his Dad won't speak to him, he's mightily irked at the lack of silver linings in The Great Gatsby, and another lost soul — the sexy widow next door — has begun to trail him on his daily runs. It's a rough return to real life.

Pat is a fearless narrator; even his most outlandish delusions are so candidly expressed that the reader teeters between fear of heartbreak and the hope that Pat might actually yearn his way into happiness. It's a charmingly nerve-wracking combination. Pat's highs and lows have a sort of sports-movie quality to them; it's no surprise that Quick has already sold the book to Hollywood.

The book is cinematic, but the writing still shimmers. This nimble, funny read is spiked with enough perception to allow the reader to enjoy Pat's blindly hopeful philosophy without irony. After all, Pat's masculine ideal requires several traits that aren't always considered manly: kindness, wisdom, grace. You'll find it refreshing to learn that whatever the outcome, Pat's journey toward self-improvement is a silver lining in and of itself.

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Barrie Hardymon
Barrie Hardymon is the senior editor for NPR's Investigations team. In 2020 she was the editorial lead for election coverage and ran NPR's pop-up talk show during the early days of the coronavirus called The National Conversation from All Things Considered. Before that she was senior editor at NPR's Weekend Edition, and the lead editor for books. You can hear Hardymon on the radio talking about everything from Middlemarch to middle-grade novels, and she's also a frequent panelist on NPR's podcasts It's Been A Minute and Pop Culture Happy Hour. She went to Juilliard to study viola, ended up a cashier at the Strand and finally got a degree from Johns Hopkins' Writing Seminars, which qualified her solely for work in public radio. She lives and reads in Washington, D.C.