Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mr. Peanut

Alice Pepin was well aware of her allergy to peanuts and she knew that eating even one or two of them would very likely kill her. Yet emergency responders found her dead on the floor of her kitchen with a handful of peanuts in her mouth. Did she commit suicide-by-peanut, as her husband claims, or did David Pepin force his wife to eat the fatal snack? I kind of figured I would know the answer to that question by the time I finished Mr. Peanut, the debut novel Adam Ross toiled over for more than thirteen years, but I have to tell you that I am still not sure what happened in that New York City apartment the day Alice Pepin died. Mr. Ross was kind enough to offer his readers several alternative endings as he closed out his story, so I suppose we can all pick one we like best and move on.

David Pepin is co-owner of the video/computer game design firm that made him and his wife extremely wealthy. Alice teaches in a private school for disturbed children. Money is not a problem for the couple but they are having other problems; Alice is extremely obese and the yo-yo effect of her constant dieting is ruining her health and placing as much emotional stress on David as it does on her. David, in fact, would prefer that Alice keep the weight and lose the stress.

Detectives Sam Sheppard and Ward Hastroll believe that David Pepin is a murderer and they are determined to prove it or force him into a confession. Pepin, though, never flinches and continues to proclaim his innocence. As it turns out, the gut feel that both detectives have about Pepin’s guilt probably come from experiences with their own wives. Both men have daydreamed about the deaths of their wives so often that they intuitively understand what must have driven David Pepin to kill his wife.

Mr. Peanut is an exploration of the evolution of three individual marriages that all end up in the same place. Readers of a certain age will quickly recognize that Detective Sam Sheppard is based on the real life Doctor Sam Sheppard who was convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death, only to be released from prison some years later when his conviction was overturned on appeal. A good portion of the novel explores, in detail, what might have happened between Sheppard and his wife when he was still a doctor at the hospital founded by his father - only in the novel does Sheppard morph into a police detective.

Ward Hastroll, the other detective, has a wife who has refused to get out of bed in his presence for several weeks. Hastroll fantasizes about her death and, at one point, he sells all of their furniture and refuses to provide his wife with food or water for several days. Only when he realizes that she is going to starve herself to death or die of thirst does he begin to feed her again. His is the most broken of marriages.

As Ross moves from marriage to marriage, eerie similarities in the situations become clear and the reader will likely find that the three marriages begin to blend into one very horrible situation. Each husband wants to be free of his wife and is considering murder as the best available option to make that happen. Each wife has been driven to the point of despair and depression by her husband’s insensitivity and lack of passion and is looking for her own way out of the marriage – but, for them, murder is not an option.

My favorite part of the book is the author’s tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock (several pages are devoted to a university film class studying the films of Mr. Hitchcock) and the way that David Pepin eventually finds himself in a nerve wracking situation the famous director would have loved. I did, though, find my enthusiasm for the book dwindling as I made my way through each successive section and by the time I reached its ambiguous ending I had grown frustrated by the book’s structure - and the multiple ending approach was the last straw. This is one good idea taken too far.

Rated at: 2.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I don't think I'd read a book with multiple endings before... I don't know how I feel about it! I mean, endings for me can make or break a book so multiple endings seem like it's trying to please all?

    Interesting premise... too bad it didn't quite pan out. I think the cover seems quite cleaver though!

  2. Christa, I found the way the book is put together an interesting, and unsual, approach to a novel but it all finally overwhelmed me with its cleverness. I found myself wanting it all to just end so that I would know what happened to Alice - and then I still didn't know for sure. That was a bit of a letdown.