Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

What a strange book. Strange, but also oddly gripping. It’s incredibly layered and sprinkled with allusions and thematic tie-ins, and even, for lack of a better word, self-allusions. It has a lot of form-theme connection and is highly cerebral without being sterile; it also has some high emotion.

The subject: marriage. Or really, what marriage is for men. I’m not sure what to make of all the violence against women—there are three primary couples and all three wives get killed, either in life or in vivid fantasy, as well as an ongoing obsession with Hitchcock movies—and the book in fact starts with David Pepin, the protagonist (if there is one), thinking about killing his wife, Alice. Pepin is actually writing a book on the subject, which seems to have a shifting relationship to the reality of the novel. We also have two detectives investigating his alleged wife-killing: Sam Sheppard (a famous real-life historical wife-killer who appears here without explanation) and Ward Hastroll, whose name is an anagram for Rear Window wife-killer Lars Thorwald. Points of view include David and both detectives–and Marilyn Sheppard, the only for-sure victim.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the repeated mentions of M.C. Escher, and the participation throughout of a mysterious hitman named Mobius. What’s all this? Is it part of the marriage exploration, or is it a somewhat separate venture into the art-life relationship? I could probably read it five more times and still not really catch all of what it was supposed to mean.

I haven’t “solved” it, but I came away with some sense that all the violence isn’t rooted in rage or misogyny, and it isn’t really anti-marriage. I wonder if, in enacting extreme violence, Ross is actually recognizing what men and marriage have historically done to women, personally or societally. The men cheat; when the women try that, they get killed. Women in these marriages stay in bed for weeks on end or become morbidly obese. And yet in all of this, it’s clear that each husband does love his wife.

Too much formal gymnastics? Probably. But there’s something very complex inside this maze.

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