Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
“I think you’re obsessed with him,” my oldest friend told me over lunch when I told her about the book for the second time. It wasn’t him, the author, but yes it was his first book and I found myself blushing, which only enforced her suspicion. What I am also obsessed with is the secret of marriage, of every marriage. Yet my relationship to this book was love/hate. The next day I told another friend the book was, “the definition of misogyny.” She asked why I was reading it. The answer was I could not put it down.
In the sticky days that followed, as I both eschewed it and then drew it to me as I climbed into bed, I tried to understand the power of Mr. Peanut. It’s an unsuitable, light title for a book filled with death and wife-murder. As for misogyny—I meant it quite literally. It starts off as a sort of mystery about a man accused of killing his wife, but then the detective on the case also has a depressive wife who he dreams of murdering and then there’s a second matricide in there too; the victim is the oft betrayed, overburdened wife of a womanizing surgeon. Yet Ross describes so well the way the surgeon liked to wear scrubs with no underwear and feel himself swinging as he walked the hospital halls. He details with such precision the numbing and also comforting morning routines of couples, the endlessness of their meals and their beds and their coffee, the almost unbearable predictability of intimacy and also its addictive power.
Sentence by sentence his earthy yet precise writing redeems him. And his very flawed obsession (wife murder!) is something, to his credit, that we come to see actual humanity in. Aggression—as it appears in many forms—is the engine of this book. Like Updike and Roth, Ross writes so well and with such pathos about what is essentially base, that we (I) forgive him.