I think Adam Ross thinks that *Mr Peanut* isn’t a novel about hating women. I also think maybe Ross thought he had to be overly simplistic and overly didactic in theme because otherwise his reader might not get it. The reason I think Adam Ross thinks this way and not the speaker or a character is that *Mr Peanut* is as much a book about metafiction as it is a meditation on gender, matrimony and identity.
The novel opens with a brilliant montage of possible ways a wife could die. The images set up the premise of the novel: husbands (note: not partners, but definitely male spouses) want their wives to disappear, and the easiest (or least imaginative) way for that to happen is for them to die.
I don’t think Adam Ross trusts the reader to be very clever, because the rest of the novel belabours this premise with repetitious lines like “if only she would disappear,” or “she became invisible” or “she disappeared” or “she vanished.” These direct statements are couple with the none-to-metaphorical “disappearance” of Alice as she loses 200 pounds or the growing invisibility of whatsherface as she takes on jobs outside the home.
Where the novel is brilliant is in the nesting of the detective’s narrative within the murder mystery – a doubling of mysteries that resonates into the readers present as a matryoshka doll where eventually you are meant to lose track of who the narrator is and wonder/realize that we’re all meant to either want to kill/disappear our wives, or we are all women on our way to being replaced/disappeared.
And why erase women? Principally, it seems, because we are bodily. We have materiality – blood, fluids, gases – that make us inconvenient distractions from the pursuits of the mind: fantasy, abstraction, *metafiction*. The male mind – taken to such abstraction as to be avatars (hammered home again in the last line of the novel *as if we didn’t get it* from David’s job as a video game designer and the repeated descriptions of him enacting GTA-like adventures with voluptuous women). The contrast of the bleeding (heart) women with the obtuse/abstruse (purposefully juxtaposed here) men serves no thoughtful purpose. That is to say, I’m okay, or at least willing to entertain, a reductionist rendering of gender if it *does something interesting*, if it draws attention, or asks a question, or forces us to look again. But this rendering of the gender dynamic – for all the self-congratulatory self-awareness our author seems to possess – appears to take place without recognition of its gross essentialism.
So while I enjoyed moments of *Mr Peanut* for being clever, I was, overall, dissatisfied because the novel didn’t trust *me* to be clever: far too much explaining, too much symbolic/dialogue repetition of key themes, far too little in the way of mystery for a book purportedly a murder mystery. And while I enjoyed the exploration of men’s perversity and the unsettling realization that our lives are *not* unfolding in multiple universes (with as many iterations as there are attempts to play a video game) nor are they unfolding with the glamour of a video game – I found the essentialist rendering of gender to be both uninteresting and offensive.
And not offensive because I am a feminist, but offensive because I’m a smart reader.