Thursday, January 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Leonard Peacock

Today is Leonard Peacock’s eighteenth birthday and he plans to celebrate by killing his former best friend/current classmate, Asher Beal, and himself. And thus, Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock begins. But before Leonard can commit this heinous act, he has four gifts to give to the few people he trusts and admires. The fifth gift is for him – wrapped neatly in pink paper and stowed carefully in his backpack is his grandfather’s Walther P38, taken from a slain Nazi official during WWII.

I have to say, it took me to nearly the last few pages to fully understand and appreciate this book. For much of it, Leonard is angry, rude, and condescending to almost everyone around him.1 He thinks himself smarter and more aware than all of his peers, constantly criticizing them in his internal monologue for their inability to think beyond pat responses meant for high marks on AP exams. His motivations are unclear, which makes it difficult to comprehend why he wants commit murder-suicide. You don’t get the sense that he’s being overtly tormented by his classmates2, which would be the most common drive for a person to retaliate. His constant self-satisfaction and braggadocio makes him a fairly unlikable protagonist.  

However, as Leonard’s motivations do become clear, it also becomes clear that this is a book worth reading. Like most of Leonard’s narrative, you slowly begin to realize his turmoil is internal and self-reflective. He struggles to cope with an act committed against him and it very nearly tears him apart from inside out. Quick’s book transcends a simple story of revenge as the denouement reveals his actions are a cry for help. He’s been hoping that just one person will care enough about him before he hurts himself or others.

Leonard’s life is also illuminated by a series of letters written by his present self from the perspective of the future. Unsure of their purpose in the narrative, I actually skimmed over them at first. By the end, when their meaning is fully realized, they deeply reveal the true nature of his character. I ended up going back to read them more closely and his last letter, which closes the book, nearly had me in tears.

Quick has created a character that will resonate with readers. Leonard is young male who, as a person who spends most of his time in his own headspace, is constantly battling his dark emotions and inner demons until he is finally able to speak up and give himself a chance at tomorrow.

Some similar reads for this book are: 
~Meredith T.

1 There are also a number of footnotes scattered throughout the book that I found fairly obnoxious. I couldn’t quite grasp why the information within them wasn’t incorporated into the text.

2 He’s a self-proclaimed outsider, misfit, and weirdo. Mostly, he despises his peers and generally wants nothing to do with them. See how annoying these footnotes are? Why isn’t this just another sentence in the corresponding paragraph?

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