MR. PEANUT/LADIES AND GENTLEMEN
Adam Ross's 2010 novel Mr. Peanut is the best initial work by an author I've read since Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh back in 1988. Ross's recent collection of short stories, Ladies and Gentlemen, released this past June, received excellent reviews as well. The Boston Globe's critic wonderfully suggested that Ross's style was a blend of Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver. Doesn't get any better than that.
Even the legendarily harsh critic of the New York Times, the estimable Michiko Kakutani, praised Ross in her review: "[The] stories in this volume are old-fashioned, almost O. Henryesque tales that point up...Mr.Ross's extraordinary gifts as a writer. Not only does Mr. Ross possess glittering powers of description and a heat-seeking eye for emotional and physical detail, but he's also able to capture the way people talk today with fluency and panache."
But it is Mr. Peanut that blew me away. Few writers have successfully explored the intricacies of the marriage relationship as successfully. Updike, Cheever, and Carver come to mind. I'll admit that I enjoyed the little game Ross plays with the readers--having many of the characters in Mr. Peanut named after characters in Hitchcock movies. One of the lead character's names is even an anagram of Rear Window's Lars Thorwald. The gimmick doesn't detract from the brilliance of the novel's conception. The story is a Mobius strip, in the manner of Pulp Fiction or Memento, conflating a murder mystery about a husband who may or may not have murdered his wife with the legendary 1950's Sam Sheppard murder case that rocked the American public in a manner not seen again until the OJ case. The novel explores the complexities of the marital relationship, the compulsive behaviors attendant to passion, and the tortuous journeys of the soul in search of truth. It is no mistake to compare the author to Edward Albee, James L. Cain, Leo Tolstoy, and David Foster Wallace, as Kakutani did in her review. Below is a brief excerpt of Ross discussing Hitchcock in the context of Mr. Peanut as well as the influence of the Sheppard murder case.
Check out Adam Ross's website at the following link: http://adam-ross.com/. At the site you can read Kakutani's and Scott Turow's reviews in the Times, as well as listen to a WNYC interview with Leonard Lopate.