From the author of The Silver Linings Playbook (now an Oscar-winning movie) comes a brave and powerful novel about a troubled teenager. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, Matthew Quick’s fourth novel, is a highly important book that is as much a story for young as for older adults.
Meet Leonard Peacock, the story’s narrator. Leonard is an intelligent and eccentric teenager with a wild imagination and philosophical nature. He sees the world in a way that other people don’t, and struggles to fit into it. His “has-been one-hit-wonder” of a father fled when he got into trouble with some debt, and his mother leaves him alone in New Jersey while she tends to her career (and her boyfriend) in Manhattan. Some days, Leonard dresses up in businessman attire and follows the unhappiest looking grown-ups he can find, hoping to figure out what keeps them going. Alone, and homicidally depressed, Leonard is desperate to find even a glimpse of some good in life.
Today is Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and after packing his grandfather’s WWII P-38 pistol into his backpack, he sets out on, what he calls, his mission. First, he will deliver presents to the four people he respects, as a way of saying goodbye. There’s Walt, his elderly neighbour and Humphrey Bogart enthusiast, the musically gifted Baback, one of Leonard’s classmates, home-schooled Lauren, an Evangelical Christian, and Herr Silverman, the teacher of Leonard’s Holocaust studies class. After these visits, he will pay his last one to Asher Beal, a classmate and school bully who he intends to kill before, ultimately, killing himself.
This is an exquisitely written book, one that is different to any other I’ve read. Given the tough, taboo topic of teenage murder-suicide, I was prepared for a dark and dreary read. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with a quirky and charming book. Quick cleverly and convincingly captures the angst of teenage depression, which is explored through Leonard’s ongoing internal monologue. He includes some interesting devices (letters to Leonard from the future, and sarcastic footnotes) that, at first, were a bit jarring, but once I got used to them served the purpose of adding to my understanding of the complex – and troubled – workings of Leonard’s mind.
It is the characters that drive this story, and from Leonard’s relationships and interactions with the supporting characters that this story draws it strength – as does Leonard. Leonard’s voice is honest and heartbreaking. I felt so much empathy for him: for his hurt and confusion, and his loneliness and need to be acknowledged. He is so misunderstood, but I did understand him and, even though I shouldn’t have, I understood why he was on his mission. I also felt captivated by the way he sees the world and the people in it. The supporting characters were perfectly created, each offering a unique flavour to this day in Leonard Peacock’s life. Of them, Walt, Leonard’s chain-smoking, widower neighbour, with his delightful film-noir quotations, was undoubtedly my favourite.
While uncomfortable to read, books like this, which get both teenagers and adults thinking, are entirely necessary. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a raw and riveting read that will, at times, take your breath away. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t save Leonard – and I couldn’t reach out and give him a hug.