Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House
When David Pepin’s wife is found dead from her peanut allergy, he is immediately suspected of her murder. After all, he was in the room with her when she sat down and ate a plate full of peanuts, knowing full well she was allergic to them, and who would believe that she did it herself to commit suicide? As the investigation progresses, Ross plays with repetition and interweaving of story lines to keep the reader guessing as to what is real, what is not, and how exactly everything will fit together.
“Mr. Peanut” has been getting a lot of love lately, but you’re not going to find any of that here.
Don’t get me wrong, I admired the way that Ross wove his story together. It cannot have been easy to keep all of the threads working together and making something that resembled sense. He is either very gifted or has a fabulous editor (or both, most likely). The creativity of the entire thing was great, really. Part of the problem was one of expectations. As I mentioned, I had been hearing people absolutely rave about this book, calling it a spectacular mindf*ck (essentially, something that twists and turns and comes back to absolutely blow your mind, because you never saw any of it coming). Perhaps it would have been, had I not been expecting to be blown away. As it was, I could admire the cleverness, but nothing particularly shocked me. Not that I necessarily foresaw what was going to happen, but when such things did happen, my response was always more “ah, yes, that makes sense” than “WOW!”
I also had a big problem with the relationships and the way that women were depicted. Many people have called “Mr. Peanut” anti-marriage for the dysfunctional relationships and the way all of the men either contemplate or are accused of killing their wives. He has argued that it is actually pro-marriage and showing that you have to work at it, which I can buy, although that is nothing that ever crossed my mind while reading. I’m not sure what redeeming message was behind the characterizations of the wives, however. The third wife was not so bad, but the first two are the worst stereotype of women in relationships, essentially telling their husbands over and over “if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you!” when the hapless men inquired as to what was wrong. Their husbands seemed to be working at the relationships while the women were content just to be annoyed and not do anything about it, and, honestly, it really turned me off of the book.
Between the expectation gap and the female characters, I felt pretty profoundly ‘meh’ about “Mr. Peanut.” Yes, Ross’s structuring of the story was top-notch, but it wasn’t quite enough for me – and itself was mitigated by the heavy-handed references to mobius strips that made me feel less valued as a reader, as if I need it to be spelled out for me. I would advise giving this one a pass, but also being on the lookout for future projects from Adam Ross.
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