Mr. Peanut

by Adam Ross

Rating: 3.9/5.0

Publisher: Vintage Contemporaries

David Pepin is found with his fingers down his wife’s throat, swollen closed from a peanut allergy. The manuscript of his unfinished novel is also found and the pages fantasizing the demise of his wife of 13 years, Alice, brings implications that her peanut ingestion was the product of foul play. Oddly enough, inspecting the case are detectives Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard, a man who has contemplated murdering his wife and a man who has been tried for it.

Much more than a story highlighting simple marital dissatisfaction, Mr. Peanut is a complexly woven novel interconnecting both its fictional characters and real life pop culture. Sam Sheppard, for example, is Ross’ take on the real-life Ohioan osteopath that was convicted and later exonerated for the murder of his wife. The Pepins first meet in a class dissecting the work of Alfred Hitchcock and throughout the novel, Hitchcockian references are sprinkled as plot-moving garnishes. Detective Hastroll’s name is an anagram for “Lars Thorwald,” the wife-killing villain in Rear Window, and his dark reactions to his wife’s choice to live as an invalid mirrors the Hitchcock character. As a game designer, Pepin finds inspiration in the optical illusions of M.C. Escher, whose famous work “Encounter” is featured on the novel’s title page. Much like the alternate planes of reality depicted in this image, Mr. Peanut highlights opposing perspectives. At one juncture of the story David Pepin says, “The person in your mind isn’t the person in the world,” subtlety remarking the ease with which we project our own idealizations onto our spouses, the pedestals that are easily toppled when real life settles in.

Fantasies of what different choices might lead the characters to, quick changes of viewpoint from one marriage’s story to another and leaked sections of Pepin’s novel that reveal themselves to actually be pieces of Ross’ novel cause Mr. Peanut to be, at times, a difficult work to follow. However disjointed as some of its timeline may be, in the end it manages to get a grip on its own dark reality and retie most of its loose ends – though it does require a slight suspension of disbelief from the reader in order to do so.

Ultimately this is not a tale that is perfect in all of its explanations, but the execution of this novel in terms of storytelling is absolutely impeccable. Expanding and contracting in an ongoing, Escher-esque loop, Mr. Peanut is an extremely engrossing novel rich with thoughtful observations about human nature.

by Sam Gordon

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