Skip to main content

The Reason You're Alive

Review

The Reason You're Alive

I’ve read a number of Matthew Quick’s adult and young adult novels. He has the ability to deftly navigate his narrators and characters through the varied perilous situations they face, which --- more often than not --- are focused on mental illness or post-traumatic stress disorder. THE REASON YOU’RE ALIVE, his newest effort, works through both in the form of a Vietnam veteran 50 years removed from combat who has culled a successful, albeit haunted, life since being discharged from the Army in the late ’60s.

As I made my way through the opening of the book, and was introduced to David Granger and his unceasing use of the four-letter swear word that begins with "f", I was taken aback by this character and wondered if I’d make it through all 226 pages of his narration. While it was an easy read, it was often not easy to read. David comes across as a racist, xenophobic, gun-loving, Republican conspiracy theorist who is rude in demeanor and unbending in opinion. More than once I thought Welcome to Trump’s America as I envisioned him wearing a red cap at a rally.

"The evolution of David makes the book feel whole. It becomes less of the confessions of a paranoid man and more about the importance of people and redemption."

But I felt it was important to read the narration more objectively than I was for the first few chapters, so I took a step back and considered David Granger and what I knew of him so far. He served in a war his countrymen didn’t approve of and returned to resentment rather than gratitude. Hank, his only child, hasn’t spoken to him in months because they innately disagree on politics and most other aspects of life. His beloved wife, Jessica, is dead after a life of severe depression. He’s recovering from brain surgery and suffering seizures, terrified of losing his memories of Jessica, his father and the happier times of his life. He’s also of a different generation when so many things about life and America were drastically different.

So I cut David some slack and continued his story. I read about his “generically Vietnamese” friend Sue, who he met in his spinning class and is the adopted daughter of a fellow Vietnam vet. I read about “gay Timmy” and his partner, Johnny, with whom David is great friends; Timmy teaches his spin class and makes real estate deals with Johnny. He relates his love for his granddaughter, Ella, and his hatred for her Dutch mother, as well as his distaste for all Dutch people based on the three he actually knows. And David began to grow on me because he evolves ever so slightly as he tells his story. I don’t mean that his opinions change or he says something nice about the Obama administration (the novel takes place in 2013). David becomes empathetic. He lets people help him; he seeks out recompense for wrongs he’s committed in the past.

The evolution of David makes the book feel whole. It becomes less of the confessions of a paranoid man and more about the importance of people and redemption. Although the phrasing I just used makes it sound clichéd, it’s not. Matthew Quick makes sure of that in THE REASON YOU’RE ALIVE by creating a narrator who is so politically incorrect by today’s standards that if any cliché is to be pulled from the novel, the importance of people and redemption is not it.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on July 7, 2017

The Reason You're Alive
by Matthew Quick

  • Publication Date: July 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062424300
  • ISBN-13: 9780062424303