Philadelphia writer’s novel tackles PTSD, politics

Matthew Quick’s new novel, The Reason You’re Alive, challenges the reader with an abrasive, unforgettable protagonist.

Cracking open a copy of The Reason You’re Alive, many readers in a liberally skewed city like Philadelphia may take an immediate dislike to its protagonist. David Granger is a Vietnam vet fond of racial slurs and right-wing politics — exuberantly so.

Author Matthew Quick spent the first few years of his life in Philadelphia before moving to New Jersey, but the City of Brotherly Love is a familiar setting in his books. The Eagles are a key plot point in his debut novel, Silver Linings Playbook, which was adapted into the 2012 hurricane of a film that sucked up box office receipts and Oscar awards alike.

In a phone interview, Quick said Philadelphia is what’s most familiar to him. He also identified himself as the “Hank” of his own family, referring to the “bleeding heart” liberal son of David Granger in his newest novel.

The political (and often personal) disconnect between David and his son is one of the central conflicts of the 278-page novel. In his late 60s, David struggles to deal with PTSD and a brain tumor, though the gruff, battle-scarred persona he exudes is unlikely to admit it.

In lieu with Quick’s previous writing (Playbook, Love May Fail, Forgive Me Leonard Peacock), his greatest strength is the complexity in which he paints his characters. Love or hate him, David Granger’s chainsaw-toothed voice, and the stories he tells with it, will linger with you. When Quick writes characters, he wants honest portrayals. He wants their good and bad, and above all their honesty.

The novel is written in first person from Granger’s aggressive point of view. The reader acts as an unspecified recipient of Granger’s “report” that covers details of his whole life. While he was unconscious from a car accident caused by his brain tumor, he repeated “Clayton Fire Bear” in his sleep, the name of a fellow veteran he has unfinished business with.

He also gradually peels back the layers of his personal life, starting with his relationship with his son and working toward his late wife, whose life came to a tragic end. All information is disclosed confidentially — he doesn’t want it made public until he “buys the bullet” (his term for dying), something he says will never happen as long as he doesn’t think about it.

Quick’s grandfather and uncle are both war veterans, and he said that impacted the way he was raised, and the writing of this character. Quick himself has talked openly about his own battle with depression and anxiety, and how writing has given him a way to start healing from his struggles.

That’s a hurdle David has yet to overcome. David is a character whose complexity extends far beyond what we see when we’re first introduced to him. Quick submerges himself in the character in a way he likened to method acting. Good or bad, what you see is what you get from David Granger — though he may just surprise you along the way.

With his novel, Quick challenged himself to write a character far removed from himself, just as he challenges the reader. If we only read about characters with opinions similar to ours, how will we learn anything? ••

Logan Krum can be reached at lkrum@newspapermediagroup.com