The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

I basically wanted to quit life for two days so I could do nothing other than read The Reason You’re Alive  by Matthew Quick. Apparently Quick wrote this gem in part as an homage to his late uncle, a Vietnam veteran who may have inspired elements of this novel’s “anti-hero”, David Granger.  The novel takes off right from the beginning, and amazingly, Quick sustains the momentum through to the end. I mean, check out this for an opening sentence: “They were giving me the mushroom treatment: keeping me in the dark and feeding me bullshit”. That just has to rank up there with the best opening lines of all time, right? I mean, talk about coming outta’ the box swingin’.

David Granger, main protagonist and narrator of the story is not supposed to be likeable, let alone loveable. But he is just that. After waking up in a hospital after brain-surgery, David rants about the evasive “Clayton Fire Bear” and how doctors are all corrupt scumbags who are either “pill pushers, needle pokers, or people cutters”. He’s right, though, isn’t he? I mean, who hasn’t had a negative experience with a doctor? But of course, he is wrong, too; and for every thieving people-cutter out there you will find a warm, compassionate civil servant who wants to take care of sick people. The truth may lie somewhere in between.

Throughout the course of this book, you’ll be amazed at the things that David says: and believe you me, he has something to say about everyone. And you’ll find that he’s right: why else would you be laughing SO HARD?  But he’s also wrong because, let’s be honest, it’s easy to stereotype and generalize entire groups of people without a second thought. And that’s where things get tricky, which is to say, human. David reserves a certain disdain for his son, Hank, his “mostly ignorant”, “ball-less”, cry-baby liberal son who wouldn’t cut it for a second in the jungles of Vietnam. And just wait until you meet Femke, Hank’s philandering wife, and their sweet daughter, Ella, who David notes is in the unfortunate position of having two complete morons for parents. All of the characters who fade in and out of David’s life are intriguing and memorable and will teach you something new about life.

This book beautifully reminds us that we see other people through the lens of our own experience. I think you’ll find, by the end of the book, when tears unexpectedly start welling in your eyes, that David strived to shield his family from suffering and pain, even at his own expense whenever possible (even when he was essentially shielding them from himself).This book is about loving and understanding your family and your friends on their own terms. This book is about war, madness, art, family, grace, and ultimately redemption. I dare you not to cry when you discover the rich meaning behind the title of the book, how David wrote it for his late wife, Jessica, and their son, Hank, the two most beloved people in his life. And then I dare you not to cry when it dawns on you that David was shielding you, too, as he had his family, from the heartache of having to let him go after finding out he was  good as gold all along.




Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

love may fail2I was looking for an audiobook to listen to in the car when I came across Love May Fail by Matthew Quick.  I really enjoyed reading his previous novel, Silver Linings Playbook (and watching the movie adaptation) so I checked it out without bothering to look at what this book was about.  If you have kids in the car with you, then you do not want to listen to this book.  Read it instead.

Love May Fail starts by introducing us to Portia Kane, who is currently sitting in her clothes closet, drunk, waiting for her husband and his lover to arrive.  After a hilarious confrontation, Portia decides to leave and gets on a plane.  While she is intoxicated.  She stumbles to her seat and finds herself sitting next to a nun.  Sister Maeve is kind and listens to Portia tell her tale of woe.  Before they part, Sister Maeve gives her a note and her address, in case Portia would ever want to write to her in the future.  And it is a good thing that Portia writes to her.  It turns out that they are looking for the same thing.

The plane lands in Philadelphia, Portia’s hometown.  We quickly realize why Portia would want to escape this place after the first encounter with her mother.  Her mother is kind but clearly mentally unstable.  After dragging her mother to a nearby diner, Portia runs into a former classmate and learns that a beloved high school English teacher was forced to retire after a brutal attack.  This teacher was the only decent man that Portia Kane ever had in her life.  Determined to find him and bring him back to the classroom, Portia begins her quest.

Some people believe that God has a master plan that brings people together.  Other people call it destiny.  Whatever you call it, in Love May Fail, you will see how one chance encounter can lead you to the person that you are looking for.  Matthew Quick brings multiple characters together through chance encounters that lead Portia to her former teacher, Mr. Vernon.  But just because you find the person that you are looking for, it does not mean that there is always a happy ending.  Mr. Vernon is a broken man when Portia finds him.  Will she be able to convince him that life is worth living?

Love May Fail is full of dark subject matter, but it is a very funny book.  Portia Kane is a believable flawed middle aged woman that is trying to find the one person that she believes has goodness inside him.  Along her journey, Portia encounters other characters that help her on her quest.  And she may find that there are other people that are good along the way.