Last night, I was lying in bed trying to sleep – it has been very difficult since Friday – I realized that this post, a post I wrote last Thursday night, might be upsetting to some readers this morning. When I picked this book, and when I wrote what I did, mental health was not a hot topic of debate. It was not tied to a very recent tragedy, a tragedy that I know many of us grieve intensely for, even without knowing a single person from Newtown.
I tossed and turned for a long time wondering if I should pull the post and save it for the new year. I thought about all the things I’ve been worrying about since Friday morning, and I considered whether I should say any of them here. In the end, I’ve decided to go forward with the review since it still reflects accurately my feelings about the book, and I’ve also decided not to say most of what I’ve been thinking about what happened.
If I changed this post in response to what happened, to the (perhaps unnatural) level of stress I’m feeling in the aftermath, I would be lying to you. Because even after all of this – even after everything I have written to my friends and family in the last 48 hours (and there has been a lot), I do still believe in radical empathy. I believe we need it now, more than ever.
That being said, today I will issue a TRIGGER WARNING for the post below. Any person has the right to be angry, sad, frustrated – even disbelieving – about the role mental illness plays in our lives, and I want it to be your choice to read my perspective about it.
My prayers are with all those affected by Friday’s terrible events, as well as with those who, like me, are filled with a desire to overcome these hopeless, fragile feelings with compassion and positive action.
I rarely do this, but I have to admit that I saw the movie before I read this book. To be fair, when my friend suggested going to see “Silver Linings Playbook” on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I didn’t even know it was based on a book. I mostly agreed to it because I love Jennifer Lawrence, and I was willing to risk watching a movie with the potential for an unhappy ending in order to see her during the indeterminable wait until the next Hunger Games movie.
I’ll refrain from telling you whether or not the film and book have an unhappy ending, and I’ll even keep my mouth shut for now on the topic of my personal feelings about unhappy endings in entertainment because I want you to be able to enjoy the book, film or both, if you so desire. I obviously enjoyed the movie enough that when my friend told me about the book, I immediately bought a copy and even got around to reading it a lot sooner than I expected to.
I have the “due date is upon me manuscript insomnia” to thank for that, actually. I was laying awake last week – my brain in overdrive and my anxiety-induced heartburn stubbornly refusing to respond to antacids – when I decided to grab my kindle and read for a while. I was in the middle of two exciting urban fantasies novels, but I didn’t want to get sucked in and end up reading until dawn (not a good choice for exceptionally busy weeks), so I started “Silver Linings” instead. I already knew (roughly) what happened, so I figured I was safe on that front. Turns out, Quick is no slouch at creating an engaging, fast-paced novel that I kept coming back to long after I should have turned out the light.
What I really loved about both the movie and the book (and they’re certainly different, although not obnoxiously so) is how the issues of mental illness are dealt with. The number of people who struggle with some type of mental illness (and this may encompass any number of diagnoses, in terms of both severity and how deeply it affects day-to-day living) – well, let’s just say that if you know five people, chances are, at least one of them has or is dealing with mental illness in some dimension. I won’t belabor this point because I believe most people know and accept that this is true, but it’s a matter of real importance to me, and seeing it represented well, and compassionately, is a gift.
Cliff says Sylvia Plath’s work is very depressing to read, and that his own daughter had recently suffered through The Bell Jar because she is taking an American literature course at Eastern High School.
“And you didn’t complain to administration?” I asked.
“About your daughter being forced to read such depressing stories.”
“No. Of course not. Why would I?”
“Because the novel teaches kids to be pessimistic. No hope at the end, no silver lining. Teenagers should be taught that—”
“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life can be.”
“So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s mind.” (p 128)
When I read “Dear Sugar” last week, the phrase the captured me in the introduction was “radical empathy.” I didn’t intentionally pick this book next because it followed the same theme, but in fact it does. And it’s Christmastime, and I want more radical empathy in my life – not just for me, but by me.
For the last year, I’ve been trying to live by the line, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” but it’s tough. I’m a judgmental person. I like sarcasm. Making fun of things is funny. Right? Right! Well, sort of. But making fun of things that other people have worked hard on, or making fun of things that mean more to others than they do to me, or making fun of things when someone might just be having a bad day or year or decade? Not so funny.
When I was teaching preschool, I found myself drawn to children with developmental delays that prevented them from understanding certain kinds of jokes, or, for lack of a better word, sneakiness. These children struggled so hard with typical daily interactions that there was no room in their brains to develop the intentional deceptiveness that most of us have perfected by about seven years old. These kids were truthful to the point of painful awkwardness on at least a weekly basis, but I grew to love it. That raw honestly never came out of a place of cruelty, but out of a desire to make the world more clear, more manageable – less cruel, in fact.
This is the world that Pat Peoples lives in. This is the world his parents and brother and friends have to accept in order to understand him and love him the way he deserves. It’s not easy. Anyone who has been in a similar situation will tell you – it is not easy. But if you need a book that really lays it all out for you in the title, might I suggest “Silver Linings Playbook” this holiday season?
Find out more about Matthew Quick here.