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Mr. Peanut


Mr. Peanut

I’m not sure I possess the vocabulary to adequately describe Adam Ross’s debut novel. As complex a work as you are likely to encounter in this or any year, it is equal parts a murder mystery, an appreciation of the art of E.C. Escher, a tribute to and a study of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and an examination of one of the most controversial legal proceedings in American jurisprudence. MR. PEANUT is all of this, and more, self-contained in a little over 300 pages.

The novel revolves around David Pepin, a fabulously successful creator of computer games who sits at the helm of his own company. A note here: I have not played a video or computer game in decades (I assume Mahjong doesn’t count), but the ones presented here, and apparently conceived by Ross, will make you want to go out and buy a game console, limber up your fingers, and lock all the doors. They are astounding, as is just about everything in this book. Pepin’s personal life is difficult, though. He is married to Alice, whom he met in college and wooed during a course of study concerned with Alfred Hitchcock. Alice is an extremely complex character, and, as the storyline unfolds, we slowly learn why, notwithstanding the fact that she is dead even as the book begins. The question is whether she was murdered by her husband or committed suicide.

Two New York homicide detectives are assigned to the case. One is Ward Hastroll, whose wife is going through… I don’t know what you would call it. One day she confines herself to bed and stays there for months. Hastroll is at a loss as to what to do. The other detective is Sam Sheppard, who, as with his real-world doppelganger, had been accused of murdering his wife but is ultimately exonerated. These men, two of them investigating the third, have a couple of things in common: each has fiercely loved their wives, and each has secretly contemplated their demise.

Hastroll and Sheppard’s investigation of Pepin becomes even murkier when they link him to an enigmatic and bizarre hit man named Mobius, who not only knows quite a bit about Pepin but also seems able to peer into the souls of others. One of the most riveting and spellbinding sections of MR. PEANUT (the book is not divided into chapters or parts) presents the Sheppards’ interrogation of Mobius, which becomes something else entirely, with the result that Sheppard’s soul is laid bare. Whether Sheppard murdered his wife or not, he is in some manner culpable in her death. Well, possibly. But the same can be true of almost anyone in the novel.

MR. PEANUT is one of those rare works of art that hews so close to unspoken and unpleasant truths that the reader has to occasionally pause to regroup, even as the prose that tells the story compels continued reading. At the same time, this is not a narrative that one can race through at any point. There are moments of dark humor that one will miss with anything less than a close reading, and Ross’s way with descriptive prose is amazing. One of the many highlights is his presentation of a metaphor dealing with an aspect of oral sex that is so perfect that it might pass into the lexicon as a standard. MR. PEANUT is a strong, complex and tragic work that will twist your head inside out and back again. You will not be quite the same after reading it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011

Mr. Peanut
by Adam Ross

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 030727070X
  • ISBN-13: 9780307270702