By Scott Turow
Published: June 17, 2010
By Adam Ross
335 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95
“When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God.” So begins “Mr. Peanut,” the daring, arresting first novel by Adam Ross, an author of prodigious talent, which takes as its theme “the dual nature of marriage, the proximity of violence and love.”
David and Alice Pepin have been married 13 years and are far past the blushing romance of their university days. “The middle,” Pepin tells his wife, “is long and hard,” an observation this book repeatedly makes about dieting, novel-writing and marriage itself. Alice, who teaches troubled children, is clinically depressed and has grown desperately obese. Her shape pleases her husband, but her obsessive diets do not, and their consistent failures belabor the Pepins’ life together. Partly in consequence, David, a successful computer game designer, is often engrossed in fantasies of Alice’s death, sometimes by his own hand. When Alice dies with David’s fingers in her mouth, as well as a handful of peanuts, to which she is deathly allergic, he claims it was suicide, while the police think murder.
At that point, the novel grows more deliberately odd. Pepin’s case is investigated by two detectives who are well acquainted with marital difficulties. One of them, Ward Hastroll, has a wife, Hannah, who has not gotten out of bed for five months, driving him, too, to vivid fantasies of murder. Hastroll’s name is an anagram for “Lars Thorwald,” the wife-killing villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (a movie the Pepins studied in the class where they met), and his actions sometimes mimic those of Hitchcock’s character.
The other detective is Sam Sheppard, the real-life Ohio osteopath whose legal case became a landmark when he was convicted and later exonerated of the murder of his wife, Marilyn. In another long-ago class, the Pepins also learned about Sheppard’s case, commonly thought to be the basis for the “Fugitive” television series and movie.
Read the rest of Scott Turow's review at NYT
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