Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
We all know how much Americans love guns, as Matthew Quick is all-too-painfully aware in his novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, a dark yet sombre tale of a troubled teenager harbouring a murderous urge for a school classmate. With a nod to the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings, the story begins on Leonard’s birthday where he expressly tells the reader that he is planning to kill his former best friend, followed by himself.
From the moment he stows a WWII P-38 pistol in his rucksack, we know we’re in for an ominous read, expertly engineered by Quick to be a work of social commentary on post-Sandy Hook USA and young male disenfranchisement. We see Leonard as an eighteen-year-old clearly alienated from his peers; his initial intention, we soon learn, is to spend the day delivering gifts to the few people who mean something to him.
Throughout the story, the reader remains quietly hopeful that one of the people Leonard visits will persuade him to avoid committing the act(s) he feels compelled to do. Over time, too, we come to understand Leonard’s reasons behind his decision to commit murder, even if his ability to commit these acts remains difficult to relate to. Typically for Quick, however, there is some humour in this book, in spite of the dark subject matter, yet there is also a heavy weight of sadness and sobriety which falls down hard on every page.
Given the pertinence around the issue of male suicide, to see Leonard be so whimsical about his impending death (as he sees it), his neuroses, as well as his own sociopathic tendencies, it’s often disconcerting to find a wry smile breaking out on your face as you read his inner monologue. This is a natural human reaction, of course, but there is a saddening fatalism to Leonard’s arc which stays with you long after you put the book down.
Without a doubt, Leonard undergoes a thought-provoking and deeply sobering journey – and as a reader, this is still hugely rewarding, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. As with Quick’s arguably most famous work, The Silver Linings Playbook, this is a novel which hones in on the loneliness of a person best described as a misfit, of being an ‘oddball’ or an outsider, still exploring the issue of mental health but this time through the prism of disaffected youth.
Belonging to the same literary lineage as The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, Leonard is something of an anti-hero – his narrative voice is compelling and yet the despicable act which he seeks to enact remain difficult for the reader to contemplate. That said, I found Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock more enriching in ways other books of its ilk fail to be. All in all, if you haven’t read any of Matthew Quick’s books yet, I strongly recommend you do so. Quick has a remarkable eye for poignancy and character, as well as black humour, and he doesn’t shy away from a dark wit to disconcert the reader.
By not shying away from the difficult topic of school shootings and tackling teenage depression amongst young males head on, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is as absorbing and revelatory as it is uncomfortably amusing. This novel is yet another exemplary addition to Quick’s impressive body of work, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favourite contemporary authors. There is no better time to discover him than now.
© 2018 Luke Edley
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Humorous fiction writer, poet and aspiring novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.