Matthew Quick – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

matthewquick-forgivemeleonardpeacockHow would you spend your birthday if you knew it would be your last?

Eighteen-year-old Leonard Peacock knows exactly what he’ll do. He’ll say goodbye.

Not to his mum – who he calls Linda because it annoys her – who’s moved out and left him to fend for himself. Nor to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing the unthinkable. But to his four friends: a Humphrey-Bogart-obsessed neighbour, a teenage violin virtuoso, a pastor’s daughter and a teacher.

Most of the time, Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye.

When I saw Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock up on Netgalley as a Read Now title, I didn’t hesitate for a moment and downloaded it immediately, as I’d heard nothing but good about the title when it was first published in the US. But while I knew it was a well-received novel, I’d forgotten what it was about exactly, so when I started the book I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was a darkly funny, painfully honest, and heart-wrenching story about a troubled teen who is more lonely than people realise and less alone than he knows. 

The central character and narrator of the book is the titular Leonard Peacock. He’s a troubled young man, deeply traumatised by events in his past that is alluded to from the start of the book, but only revealed in its entirety halfway through the narrative. These events have driving him into a profound depression, only exacerbated by the neglect and abandonment he suffers at the hands of his parents. When we meet Leonard he has hit rock bottom and he can see no way out. Yet despite his depression, his sense of worthlessness, and his loneliness, Leonard has a distinctive voice and he is deeply, darkly funny. His wonderful sense of humour pervades the tragic tale he tells and makes the pain and sadness of his tale bearable.

On his final day Leonard wants to give the four people who have kept him going a farewell present. These four are his neighbour Walt, his class mate Baback, his friend Lauren, and his teacher Herr Silverman. All of them have a connection to Leonard, three of them in that they offer an escape for Leonard, be it through film (Walt), music (Baback), or visions of the possibility of a different life (Lauren). Only Herr Silverman doesn’t offer an escape as much as he offers validation of who Leonard is, that he is worthwhile in and of himself. He seems to care about Leonard, about who he is, how he is feeling without any underlying motivation, other than being kind and a good teacher. He reminded me strongly of my favourite teacher at secondary school and reminded me how much difference the kindness of one person can make to a teenager and how important that was to me.

Leonard’s main adversary is Asher Beal, who surprisingly is Leonard’s former best friend—from best friend to arch nemesis is a big shift. Asher is only shown as evil, which left me conflicted, because he is as much victim as aggressor. This is reflected and enhanced by Leonard’s guilt over the feeling that he should have saved Asher, once it became clear something was wrong with him, even if he was victimised by Asher. While Asher plays such an important role in Leonard’s development into who he is in the book and in his plans for his birthday, we hardly see him as an active player in the narrative. Leonard relates the events from the past and during the ‘now’ of the novel Leonard runs into him at school and trades insults, but that’s it. One the one hand, it makes it easier to just see him as Leonard does, on the other it also leaves him rather flat as a character.

The one person in this book that I just couldn’t understand was Linda, Leonard’s mum. I can see how it would be awful to have what happened to Leonard happen to your child – just the thought of it happening to one of my girls gives me nightmares – but how on earth can you just abandon them because you can’t deal with it? And how selfish do you have to be to not want your child to get the help he needs, because you don’t want to be told that everything is your fault (the reason she won’t let Leonard see a therapist)? I just couldn’t see my way past that. Parents generally aren’t portrayed in the best light in this book. Both Linda and Mrs Beal are portrayed as oblivious and in Asher’s case enabling, and both dads seem to be absent. Lauren’s parents are only mentioned in the context of Lauren’s being home-schooled and their faith, not in terms of their actual parenting.

Quick’s writing is different, with typographical tricks, elaborate footnotes, and interludes in the forms of letters from the future written by Leonard’s future loved ones. These last confused me a bit, because I hadn’t expected this rather science-fictional element to show up. I loved the use of the footnotes as some of the most important things were said in the footnotes, they were a fun way to tell more of Leonard’s history, without breaking the immediacy of the narrative of Leonard’s birthday.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock addresses some very tough issues, such as bullying, abuse, and depression, but does so without sermonising or becoming so bleak there is no returning to the light. Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a wonderful book, one that touched me deeply. Leonard’s journey through his birthday was deeply tragic, at times desperately funny, heart-breaking and uplifting. It ends on hope, hope for a happier future, for justice, but mostly a future, any future period.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.