David, a Vietnam vet who is closing in on age 70, has just had a brain tumor removed.
Davidâ€™s sure it was the Agent Orange, not the cancer, that got him.
He survived the worst of the Vietnam War; horrible acts that kept part of him permanently imprisoned in the jungle. His physical body came home, but his psyche was permanently scarred.
Itâ€™s a life lived in Vietnamâ€™s shadow. And the shadowâ€™s pretty dark.
Worse, Davidâ€™s brain tumor surgery has made him realize itâ€™s finally time to face up to his wartime nemesis, Clayton Fire Bear. If the Agent Orange didnâ€™t kill him, Clayton Fire Bear just might.
On his surface, David is the stereotypical cantankerous, old, closed-minded man who growls at everything. Think of Rudy from the first season of Survivor. Clint Eastwood in any movie heâ€™s done in the last 20 years.
He openly identifies people by their races and nationalities and sexual orientations, sometimes using slang words that rankle. His liberal son, Hank, is horrified. But their relationship has been problematic for years.
As we get to know David, though, we find he has an appreciation for those differences, crass as he may be about pointing them out.
We meet the surrogate family heâ€™s built, characters who could easily represent every group he hates (but doesnâ€™t actually). Ancillary to Davidâ€™s story, we still get a full sense of each character and come to care about their complex selves.
And thatâ€™s the magic of Matthew Quick. He creates people who are multilayered. Theyâ€™re deeply flawed, with little chance of redemption.
But theyâ€™re so worthy of love and peace. Not the fairy tale, champagne-glass-clinking happy ending, but messy, inconvenient, soul-deep, surprising love.
This book would make a great movie, as long as they do it as masterfully as Silver Linings Playbook. Iâ€™d love to spend some more time with all of these people. Especially David.
Call Chris Cooper.