As we taxied, there was no indication of what the coming minutes would include. It was a gorgeous early April day in Chicago as my flight pulled away from the gate. I’ve always intrigued that planes leaving Midway for points east would take off towards the west and then bank 180 degrees to float over the residential streets, rail yards, the Dan Ryan, the Loop, and finally Lake Michigan as we rocket towards the east coast.
That afternoon, the take off was smooth, the initial ascent passed without issue. Then as we banked right to make our mid-air u-turn towards Chicago, the plane was rocked by a gust of serious wind. With the plane dipping to the right already due to the turn, it rocked even further down. Now, looking back, it was nowhere near the ground, but it was clear, this wasn’t on the flight plan. In the seconds before the pilots righted the plane, I looked across the the aisle to the left side to see if I could view what was going on outside the other side of the plane. As I did this, I made eye contact with a guy one row further up to my left. In that moment, his eyes betrayed what his mind was thinking – this was it.
I mention this because several characters in “Mr. Peanut” by Adam Ross, experience life-changing events mid-air. One flight happens in the 1950’s and the other in the last few years. It is a credit to Ross, in a story with three male characters dealing with the same issues, that the similarities in their stories – which boil down to their struggles with marriage – don’t weigh down the story with redundancy. Instead it gives it’s strength.
“Mr. Peanut” is ostensibly the story of Alice and David Pepin, a married couple in New York City whose marriage has suffered over the years. Alice’s weight has been a constant issue and David, despite being an executive at a successful video game company, is frustrated with many things in his life.
After Alice dies in their apartment, the two detectives assigned are Sam Sheppard and Ward Hastroll. Yes, the same Sam Sheppard who was convicted of killing his wife in 1950’s Cleveland, only to be acquitted in a retrial. He was the inspiration for the TV show and film, The Fugitive. Ward’s wife has voluntarily confined herself to her bed.
Ross’ book seems to be influenced by the films of Hitchcock and Escher paintings. Ross effectively builds suspense as he tells the story of the three marriages. In some ways, Alice’s death is a “macguffin” to three tales about the consequences of marriage which can include infidelity, stillborn children, contemplating murder, and second chances. The Escher painting, initially an inspiration for one of David’s video games, hangs over the novel. At one point, the reader may be confident in what is happening in reality, but that confidence can disappear on the next page.
I’m leery of sharing too much of the plot, and revealing spoilers that would lessen the power of the story, but there is one vague comment I can make. Part of “Mr. Peanut” is a story within a story. More of a working manuscript than anything else which forced me and will force you to reconsider much of what is written, before and after this revelation.
While I greatly enjoyed this book, talk about a downer on a marriage. Two wives are dead, another is alive in name only for most of the book. To reach these points, the love these couples shared is overwhelmed by life and all it brings. At the same time, it is clear, at least from these stories, that love and marriage are work, all the time. In “Mr. Peanut,” Sheppard and Pepin learn this lesson too late to save their marriages, but it leaves the reader with a complex book well worth reading.