Books - Matthew Quick says 'Love May Fail'

Author's quirky prose gets philosophical in new novel about life's absurdity

Matthew Quick’s easy, gripping, laugh-out-loud read, Love May Fail, never hesitates to punch you in the gut. The writer we all know of Silver Linings Playbook fame has once again birthed a litany of characters who, although definitely broken in one way or another, are as endearing and real as the fragmented characters we remember from our own childhood hometowns.

We meet our protagonist, Portia Kane, while she is piss drunk, hiding in her own closet with her pornographer husband’s Hennessy in one hand and his Colt .45 in the other. In one of the most entertaining opening scenes of any book you’ll read this summer, Portia enlightens us as to just how big of an ass her mustachioed husband really is: Not only does he make “the misogynistic kind of porn” for a living, he is now, in front of her very eyes (although hidden through the slats of the closet doors), having sex with a Khaleesi-esque blonde teenager in their marital bed. In true Quick form, this propels Portia to leave her opulent porn-fueled life in Florida and return home to – you guessed it – Philadelphia.

Portia is a whirling dervish of intoxication and regret. Once an idealistic feminist who dreamed of becoming a novelist, she’s now the manicured trophy wife who’s been replaced with someone shiny and new. Solace is nowhere to be found, but Portia attempts to help herself through a series of well meaning interactions with the best broken toys Quick’s world has to offer: an “adorable” old vodka-drinking nun; a metal-head young boy with a penchant for Jon Bon Jovi; her hoarder mother who feigns invisibility and collects stacks of Diet Coke with Lime on the off chance her daughter may make a rare visit; and finally, Nate Vernon, the old, broken down English teacher who inspired Portia and countless others through his hopeful, fantastical teaching (think Robin Williams a la Dead Poets Society).

Unfortunately for Portia, the man she once considered to be “the father she never had” is now in the throes of his own debilitating depression. His career as a high school teacher ended tragically after a disturbed student beat him half to death with an aluminum baseball bat, and now, with gallons of Pinot Noir and his toy poodle, Albert Camus, as his only companions, he wants to die.

But giving up isn’t as easy an option in Quick’s world as it may seem. Each heavily burdened character is balanced with the things in life that make it worth living, be that a talented child, an unwavering goal, or even the love of a loyal dog.

At its core, Love May Fail is an absurdist dramedy that relies as heavily on Albert Camus and Kurt Vonnegut quotes as it does its characters’ imperfect humanism. No one does damaged but hopeful like Quick, and with this novel he again reminds us that everything in life is balanced by a collection of extremes: success and failure, love and contempt, life and death. Absolutely nothing can ever be perfect — a fact that reared its ugly head time and again. But by refusing hope, one may miss the entire point of Love May Fail.

Life is unpredictable and unfair, Quick seems to be saying, but sometimes beauty happens. And perhaps the only thing in this life that is constant is absurdity. But, as Albert Camus said, maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.

Love May Fail is a celebration of the humanness that connects us all, be it love, hate, despair, or hope. You can choose what you feel, like the way I chose unease over hope throughout reading this beautiful, quirky novel. To be or not to be? To live or to die? To be happy ... or not?

The answer Quick delivers is not as one-dimensional and easy as one may hope, but it is as perfect as perfect goes in an imperfect world.

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick. HarperCollins. $25.99?416 pp.

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