1. If you had to be a character in The Silver Linings Playbook, who would you choose and why?
Pat’s therapist Cliff. His ability to blend his professional identity (Pat’s therapist) with his personal passion (Eagles football) was impressive and made a tremendous difference in Pat’s life. Plus the guy knows how to party. If I were part of the Asian Invasion bus-tailgating contingent, I might come around to the idea that watching football is a fun way to spend time.
2. Pat thinks his life is a movie produced by God, destined to end happily, because most romantic comedies do. In sharp contrast, Pat discovers that great works of American literature almost always end on a sad note. Why are so many classic reads depressing?
It’s not exactly schadenfreude, but there is something comforting about reading stories that realistically reflect life’s losses and disappointments and disillusionments. I find fiction to be extremely cathartic in this way.
3. No doubt, Pat is different. Discuss the individual ways other characters react to his idiosyncrasies. What motivates each character? In what ways can Pat be viewed as a barometer?
I’m not sure Pat can be viewed as a barometer, and I don’t necessarily agree that other characters’ motivations were driven by his idiosyncrasies. Rather, the ways they react to him seem consistent with their own personalities. Pat is lucky to be surrounded by good people, for the most part. And everyone in Pat’s life wants him to succeed in his recovery and move on with his life. His brother Jake wants him to return to normalcy as an Eagles fan. His mother wants him to function as an adult in the world, but understands that he needs some handholding at this juncture. His father only wants the Eagles to win, and perhaps he wants Pat to adopt his lifestyle where every mood, reaction, and whim hinges on the success of a football team. As for Tiffany… Well, initially Tiffany wants to seduce Pat to appease her own casual sex addiction. But when he doesn’t go for that, Tiffany’s motivations become pretty muddled. Even if she claims to have Pat’s best interest at heart, her lies about being in contact with his estranged wife are manipulative and cause him pain. I think the author wants readers to forgive Tiffany, but I’m not sure I do.
4. Pat gets swept up in Philadelphia’s love affair with the Eagles. How does the author use sports fanaticism as a metaphor, and what other modern preoccupations could you plug into the equation? What do your obsessions (both good and bad) say about your mental health? How do they affect your familial relationships?
I am sure Eagles fans have redeeming qualities but I am glad that in my day-to-day life I don’t often encounter people hopping around and squawking like deranged birds. Sports fanaticism is a mystery to me in general. But, I can absolutely relate to obsessive preoccupations. My most relevant example is probably vegetables. I belong to a CSA that delivers heaps of veggies every week from June through October. I make no plans after work on Tuesday—farm share day—because I need to lug home my loot and get cooking. Hours of my life are devoted to the incoming produce: researching recipes, creating shopping lists, and executing elaborate feasts. I cook incessantly, showing up everywhere I go with cantaloupe salsa, kale chips, beet bread, zucchini muffins, the list is endless. Nutritionally beneficial, yes, but mentally it’s a major source of anxiety and guilt. Like sometimes I just want to eat pizza and chicken wings, but I’ve got a fridge full of wilting vegetables and the clock is ticking toward next Tuesday and I Can’t. Stop. Cooking. Not so bad for familial relationships, though—everyone in my life probably gets sick of hearing about my vegetable obsession, but most people like to be fed.
5. Does Pat’s relationship with his therapist, Cliff Patel, challenge or reaffirm your view of therapy?
Neither. Although I like Cliff as a character in the book, his professional boundaries seem pretty unrealistic. For this reason, I don’t feel that my views on therapy are challenged by the fact that it seems highly unlikely that any therapist in the real world would adopt a patient into his regular tailgating party.
6. When Pat was teaching and coaching full time he was not a good husband. Living with his parents gives Pat a chance to work on his character and affords him the ability to treat Tiffany much better than he treated Nikki. Would Pat continue being a better man if he acquired a full-time job? Is personal happiness always pitted squarely against one’s career, or are there exceptions?
I think that in addition to being a bad husband, Pat was probably a bad teacher and bad coach. Pat’s a nice guy with a good heart, but clearly his personal happiness is pretty squarely pitted against his mental health issues. I would like to think that if he stays on his meds and in therapy and continues to surround himself with people who support and understand him, he will eventually be able to hold another full time job and treat Tiffany well at the same time.
7. On Pat’s road to recovery he learns to dance. How does the Dance Away Depression competition open Pat up to the healing process?
Full disclosure, I saw TSLP the movie months before reading the book or even knowing the movie was based on this book. In the book, Pat spends a lot of time comparing his life to a movie, and the entire preparation for the Dance Away Depression competition is described as though it were a film montage. This works much better in the actual movie than in does over the course of twelve pages in the text. But I suppose that getting into a routine and having a commitment to another person puts Pat on a good track. I really didn’t like how Tiffany’s rules alienated him from his friends and family, though.
8. Exercise plays an important role in the lives of Pat and Tiffany. Is their preoccupation with exercise healthy? Do you think there is a connection between mental health and physical health?
For Pat, every day revolves around hours of weight lifting and long runs. As an outlet for his emotional energy, the regimen seems to be a positive force in his life. But I don’t know how one graduates to holding a job, for example, if getting through the day requires eight-plus hours of working out in the basement. Tiffany’s workouts seem a little more measured—mostly just chasing Pat around the neighborhood—at least until she starts up their full-time dance rehearsals. Overall, their preoccupations with exercise contribute to their wellbeing, but it might not be the most sustainable coping mechanism.
9. Some readers say they laughed all the way through TSLP. Others say they cried all the way through. What was your response? Why do you think TSLP provokes a wide range of emotions?
This was not a funny book, for me. It didn’t make me cry—I don’t think a book has brought me to actual tears since I quit Jodi Picoult about fifteen years ago—but reading this story told through Pat’s eyes was a very different experience than watching Bradley Cooper run around a suburban neighborhood wearing a trash bag. I walked away from TSLP the movie thinking it was the perfect storm of a dark-ish rom-com: who doesn’t love a good dance competition movie set against a backdrop of rabid sports fandom? But the book is about a troubled man trying to make sense of a world that moved on without him, and his quirky behavior didn’t make me laugh as he describes it alongside the emotions he’s experiencing—it’s all just too closely linked to his struggles with confusion, sadness, anxiety, and anger.
Alyssa Vine lives in New York.