Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock," by Matthew Quick (Little, Brown; 2013)

The Protagonist: Leonard Peacock. Today is his birthday, and he plans to go out the same way he came in - with a lot of blood and screaming as he shoots the boy who abused him and then himself.
His Angst: Um, see above.

Secondary Characters:

Asher Beal: Leonard's childhood best friend who then became his abuser and tormentor. Leonard plans to cap off his birthday by blowing a hole in Asher's head.

Walt: Leonard's kindly, elderly neighbour who often likes to watch old Humphrey Bogart movies with him.

Baback: A violin prodigy whom Leonard defends from bullies in return for listening to him make beautiful music.

Lauren: An evangelical, homeschooled Christian girl whom Leonard develops a crush on.

Herr Silverman: An inspiring teacher of Holocaust Studies, whom Leonard idolizes and looks up to.

Linda Peacock: Leonard's awful, oblivious, neglectful, utterly self-absorbed and useless mother.

Angst Checklist
  • Bullying
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Terrible Parenting
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Religion
  • Suicide
  • Homophobia
  • Depression and Mental Illness
The Word: December's a great month - full of twinkling lights and wishes and cookies and family. So what better thing to read for the Forever Young Adult Book Club than a novel about suicide?


It's Leonard Peacock's 18th birthday, and how does he plan on celebrating? By taking his P-38 pistol to school and shooting his high school abuser, Asher Beal, and then himself. First, however, he's got four presents to hand out to the four people who at least tried to make his life bearable. 

Jay Asher (the author of Thirteen Reasons Why) blurbed this book, and I can see why, as the narratives are superficially similar. Both plots follow the viewpoint of an abused, vengeful outsider explaining the reasons they've decided to end their life. Both books explore the myriad ways in which parents, friends, and educators can (and do) fail the children they're supposed to be protecting. 

However, while I couldn't quite connect with Leonard Peacock, it was nowhere near as hateful as Thirteen Reasons Why. For one thing, Leonard's pain doesn't beatify him or excuse his intentions the way Hannah's premeditated psychological torture of her "tormentors" was. 

Leonard's intentions are gruesome - but the narrative acknowledges the monster he's planning on becoming even as it examines how he got to this point from an empathetic standpoint. There's also an element of suspense that keeps one reading - each gift that Leonard gives evokes memories and flashbacks, but also serves as a countdown to Leonard's murder-suicide. Will he go through with it as planned, or will someone finally be able to talk him out of it?

Reading Leonard Peacock was similar in a lot of ways to Catcher in the Rye. The narrative, told from the outsider's point of view, keeps the rest of the world at a distance. Everyone is a poser and a phoney. Our protagonist reaches out for help but at the same time resists it, distrusting other people's intentions. Leonard has no hope for the future because he can't find a single adult in his life who demonstrates that adulthood is any less miserable than adolescence. 

There are some bright spots in the never-ending misery, but they are toned down and often bittersweet, such as the post-apocalyptic "letters from the future" that Leonard writes to himself. There are no magical happy endings or solutions.

At the same time, however, I reacted to Leonard Peacock in the same way I reacted to Catcher in the Rye. I couldn't really connect to Leonard. I empathized with his pain but at the same time felt removed from it. As a result, while the reading experience of this book was pleasant I didn't take anything away from it. It was just a story that existed. I'm also not sure the story argued its point very well, but to be fair it's a subject that is pretty murky and miserable.

In the end, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock gets the "m'eh" reaction from me. I never really felt for Leonard the way the author probably wanted me to. Still, the novel does have some insightful and clever moments and is an interesting look at an unusual point of view.

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