Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

I picked Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross based on a review in The New York Times by Scott Turow. This is the first time that I have bought a book on this basis (amazing but true). Mostly I choose books based on word of mouth or serendipity, unless the book is about Aikido or programming in which case I already know something about the author and subject. Scott Turow had a glowing assessment of Adam Ross’s talents and based on the review I expected a murder mystery that was more than genre fiction, much like Turow’s work. What I got was an experimental novel that plays with the murder mystery genre but is never really committed to it.

There are many references to M. C. Escher art and I think the author wanted to structure the novel like an Escher print. There are three narratives that have repeated elements, each time changed but recognizable. The central subject is marriage and the threat of violence in bad marriages. This structure never really worked for me. I used to enjoy Escher prints, but they are basically very cold and cerebral; not something that I want in a novel. The other problem is that Escher prints are never linear, the point is often an endless loop. A novel is a completely linear experience, and in this case the attempt to mimic the experience of an Escher print gives an ending that simply peters out and doesn’t satisfy. This may have been what the author was after and if so it is a success, but I felt very disappointed with the experience.

There are several sustained narratives that are very good and could have stood on their own. In particular, the retelling of the Sheppard murder from the 1950′s was very compelling. Adam Ross is a real talent as a writer, but I want him to focus on a more straight forward narrative. A well told story is rare enough that I don’t want it muddied by complicated, experimental structures that don’t boost the emotional connection I have to the story.


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