Mr. Peanut [Book Review]

“For underneath this there were unspoken truths, things that had happened or they were waiting for that comprised the very bedrock of their marriage, which went beyond issues and that David boiled down to three:

She was fat.
His book wasn’t done.
And Mr. Peanut”

– p. 82 of Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross –

Title: Mr. Peanut
Author: Adam Ross
Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction
ISBN: 030727070X
Pages: 352
Year: 2010
Publisher: Knopf
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5/5

Mr. Peanut begins with David Pepin, recently accused of murdering his wife with a peanut – a food which is fatal to her. The two detectives on the case, Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard are forced to look to their own marriages while investigating the alleged crime. What unfolds is a novel about the dark side of marriage.

And when I say dark, I mean it. There is Alice Pepin who can’t get past her size, her depression, and the losses they’ve suffered.  There is Ward Hastroll’s wife, Hannah, who hasn’t left her bed in 5 months and just keeps saying Ward doesn’t understand. And then there is Sam and Marilyn Sheppard – a couple that actually existed (like, in real life) until a pregnant Marilyn was murdered and Sam was assumed to be the killer.

The nonlinear story weaves together in an increasingly complex way. I’m not sure I’m actually smart enough to completely “get” this novel. Mr. Peanut is about as straightforward as a Mobius strip or an M.C. Escher painting – two of the very things featured within it.

There is A LOT to discuss about Mr. Peanut. I want to talk about the real Sam Sheppard case and the story as it is envisioned here. I want to talk about the intriguing idea that a tragedy which occurs while we’re traveling is unique and requires extra effort to overcome. I want to talk about the way the novel fits together. But I simply don’t have the room here or the ability to do that on my own.

The story is either brilliant, or Ross has done a very good job of making it appear brilliant. It all might be an illusion. And maybe that’s the point.

I want to recommend Mr. Peanut, but I also want you to be prepared for it. This is not a cozy bedtime story. Read it, think about, and then find me so we can chat.

A big thanks to Rebecca for making me want to read this book.

PS – Can someone explain Schrodinger’s Cat to me? I don’t understand WHY it’s both alive and dead.

Memorable Passages:

Say her name once, say it over and over again, say it in reverse, and the effect was always the same. At first it was her name and then it was like a heartbeat and then, like a heartbeat, it was something you couldn’t hear. Self-canceling, it was hide-in-plain-sight magic. She had managed to make their life together disappear. p. 67

But the middle, David wrote, is long and hard.
He meant his book and he meant his marriage. At some point his book had become his marriage, or consumed his marriage. Or else his marriage had consumed the book. p. 270

Buy It Now: Amazon; IndieBound; Powell’s; Book Depository

23 thoughts on “Mr. Peanut [Book Review]

  1. Maria September 7, 2010 / 9:09 am

    Interesting book! The book mentions Shroedinger’s cat and the Mobius strip? That’s a bit too maths-y, isn’t it?
    Well, basically the deal with the cat is: you put the cat in a box with some sort of bottle of poison or something similar. If the cat breaks the glass, it will inhale the poison and die, if not she will live. But the only way for you to know which one, is to open the box. Before you open the box, the cat’s quantum mechanic wave function (which is basically what we think is the accurate description of reality) will be a combination of the “cat is alive” state with the “cat is dead” state. Only when we open the box does the wave function settle into either the “cat is alive” state or the “cat is dead” state. So, you see the problem is that obviously the cat can’t be both alive and dead and yet before we open the box, quantum mechanics cannot tell us what it is, which might mean that it is not a complete theory and cannot describe reality… Hope this made it clear! 🙂


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 9:21 am

      That is a very good explanation, Maria. However, I think they should put a window on the box next time. 🙂


      • Maria September 7, 2010 / 9:31 am

        Haha, theoretical physicists can’t do that, you need an engineer or something for that sort of thing!


      • Meg September 13, 2010 / 5:06 pm

        I’ve always wondered what in the world was up with the Shroedinger’s cat theory, too — thanks, Maria! I think I have a (marginally) clearer understanding now, haha. Science is so far over my head.


  2. Lisa September 7, 2010 / 9:39 am

    I was about to tell Michelle that my dad has tried to explain Shroedinger’s cat to me about a million times (he even has a t-shirt with a joke that I don’t get about it) and I never understood it. But Maria’s explanation was great. I actually sort get the idea now. Thanks Maria!!


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 10:13 am

      That really is a good explanation, huh? I forgot Maria could probably explain it to me. Wikipedia was unhelpful.


  3. Adam Ross September 7, 2010 / 12:01 pm

    Dear Michelle,
    Great blog post. If the book isn’t brilliant, I’m glad it at least appeared so. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in further exploring the Sheppard case, check out the link on my web site, “Did Sam Do It?”; there’s an essay I wrote which synthesizes my research on the murder and also contains a decent bibliography if you want to read more.

    I enjoyed your post! Keep reading and writing about books.

    Adam Ross
    PS. Maria’s explanation re: Shroendinger’s Cat is pretty great. At the moment in the novel when David mentions it, I think he’s feeling a little bit like the cat in the box.


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 5:55 pm

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment here. I will certainly check out your essay on Sam Sheppard.


  4. Jenny September 7, 2010 / 12:24 pm

    Ooh, sounds intriguing!! I love when books are all deep like that but hate when I don’t quite “get” it, lol!!


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 5:55 pm

      Yeah, sometimes they don’t make you feel so smart, huh? But this one is good.


  5. Linda September 7, 2010 / 1:03 pm

    Sounds like a fantastic book. I’ll keep an eye out for it.


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 5:55 pm

      I hope you enjoy it.


  6. Ti September 7, 2010 / 2:27 pm

    I love that it’s not a cozy bedtime story. I almost bought this over the weekend but then decided to buy it for my Kindle instead (which I have yet to do). Once I get caught up, I will buy it and let ya know what I think.


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 5:56 pm

      Can’t wait to hear what you think.


  7. Jen - Devourer of Books September 7, 2010 / 6:13 pm

    I’m still not 100% sure how I felt about this, but reading your review makes me think I didn’t like it nearly as much as you did. I did really like the way that Ross pulled the story together, I thought that was masterful, but I thought the mobius thing was too heavy-handed (how many times did it really need to be mentioned), and I hated the depiction of the women. The only one who was halfway decent was Sam’s wife.


    • Michelle September 7, 2010 / 6:18 pm

      Yeah, but it’s not like the depiction of the men was that great either. I thought they were all cowards.

      I think you lowered my expectations a little so maybe that’s why I liked it more. Still curious to hear what you think when you finally know yourself.


  8. Mrs. Q: Book Addict September 7, 2010 / 8:48 pm

    Oh, this sounds like an interesting read. I certainly have to be in the mood for this type of book but I will add it to my wishlist.


  9. Jenn's Bookshelves September 8, 2010 / 9:26 am

    A copy of this book is waiting for me at the library. I can’t wait to dig into it!


  10. MsRedPen September 8, 2010 / 2:28 pm

    I’ve only given a five-star rating to 3 of 64 books I’ve read this year. This is one of them. I think it’s tricky to discuss it without giving too much away, but I will say that I loved the confounding structure and the interwoven stories. The examination of the three marriages worked very well, although the Hastroll scenario was the least interesting to me. The Sheppard subplot was totally fascinating and I’m planning to visit Adam Ross’ site to read the essay he mentioned in his comment.


  11. Topher September 11, 2010 / 2:35 pm

    Twitter and blogger people like you prompted me to put a copy on hold at the library. I’m something like…135/165 in the queue. 134 other people have this on hold and will get it before me, and there are dozens more waiting to get it.

    Nice review. When/if I read this, you’ll probably have long forgotten it…

    Unless it really is brilliant.


  12. Meg September 13, 2010 / 5:04 pm

    After seeing all the chatter surrounding this one, I have to admit that I’m intrigued — but dark reading is just something I tend to shy away from! Perhaps I’ll just continue to read all the excellent reviews of this one, like yours, and live vicariously through your thoughts! 🙂


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