If you recognise the name on the cover of this one, it's because Matthew Quick is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, and if you've only seen the film, it's worth noting it managed its topic far less well than its source material. Where the film sometimes got uncomfortably close to laughing at people with mental health problems, the book didn't, so discovering that Matthew Quick makes a habit of writing about characters with mental illnesses does not fill me with dread and horror.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is the story of the eponymous narrator's 18th birthday. He knows exactly how he's going to celebrate: he's going to thank the only four people in his life who've made a difference, then he's going to shoot his former best-friend Asher, then he's going to shoot himself.
It's difficult to feel sympathy for Leonard. He's very much of the privileged, Holden Caulfield, poor-little-rich-boy school of characterisation. He is intelligent (leading to a degree of obnoxiousness), and entitled, and he has the freedom (and money) to do what he wants. With his mother practically living in NYC, he can spend the day watching Bogart films with his next-door neighbour, or skip school to spend the day stalking adults as "training" for real life.
However, what saves this is Quick: a good writer who understands his character. From the off Leonard is asking to be stopped. Where Quick's best known protagonist Pat Peoples was earnest and straightforward, Leonard operates at full subtext, desperate for somebody to realise what's happening, what has happened, and prevent anything further. He's somebody who's slipped through the cracks opened by the limits of polite social discourse.
And so the book proceeds through Leonard's birthday, to the people who've meant something to him and his private desperation for one of the them to realise what's going on.
It took me a while to get into this book.
Leonard's narration tends to paragraphs of a single sentence.
I stuck with it because Leonard is supposed to be 18 and I assumed it was a deliberate stylistic choice.
It was irritating to begin with, though.
Really, really irritating.
The text is littered with footnotes. Footnotes on a Kindle are a nightmare and it was for this reason I got a copy from the library rather than buying it.
There were also these bizarre 'letters from the future' - the first from Leonard's colleague of 20 years hence who explains the world is now a flooded wasteland and they tend a lighthouse. The first of these threw me so hard out of the book I skipped it, only returning later once I'd got a firmer grip on things. Once I understood what these passages were, I thought they were great.
I love books which drive inexorably to their conclusions; I love the tension of trying to avoid a pre-determined outcome far more than a general 'what happens next?'. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is tremendous in this regard, the way it focussed on Leonard, on the damage his own actions and his own plans cause him. It doesn't excuse him or explain it away; reasons are given as much as reasons can be. He perpetuates the damage he's been dealt.
Although it sounds quite hopeless, it's not. It has a peculiar lightness to it, the relief of a decision made which is going to be carried out.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is one of those books I wasn't sure about while reading it, but as a whole it's great. The more I think about it, the more I like it and I'll likely be giving it a reread at some point in the dim and distant future (although not on Kindle, due to the footnotes).