BookBrowse Reviews Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Mr. Peanut

by Adam Ross

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross X
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 352 pages
    Apr 2011, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

Buy This Book

About this Book



Are murder and marriage two sides of the same coin? And what, in the end, is the truth about love?

The beginning of Adam Ross's first novel, Mr. Peanut, is extraordinarily alluring. He introduces the reader to David Pepin, a man who immediately falls in love with his future wife, Alice, in a college class on Alfred Hitchcock; but over the course of their thirteen-year marriage, David develops the morbid habit of fantasizing about her demise. The reader peers voyeuristically into his thoughts and sees what David never dares to speak out loud: Alice falling on the train tracks, Alice conveniently being struck by lightning, Alice crumpling under a fallen crane…

The elements of suspense are well set up and the hostile yet sexual nature of their relationship contributes to a sense of the bizarre. Alice's painful obesity is David's delight: "She was not his wife but a giant she-creature, an overlarge sex pet: his to screw, groom, and maintain". Tension builds, mean-spirited fights are subdued into sexual acts on a whim, and Ross raises questions about the relationship between love and anger. Are they intrinsically related? What silent and unseen process takes place in a marriage that creates so much hostility? And then Alice does die, found with traces of peanut meat--a food she is highly allergic to--in her mouth, and David is the main suspect.

Ross then introduces the characters of Detective Hastroll and Detective Sheppard, the two men sent to investigate Alice's murder, and begins a major and rather unexpected shift in the focus of the novel. Structured in segments that flash back and forth in time, Ross explores the equally miserable and non-communicative relationships between the detectives and their wives. The plotline of David and Alice all but vanishes for a good portion of the book, which in and of itself isn't a problem; it has the potential to serve as a MacGuffin, which Ross informs us "is what gets the story rolling but then fades in importance after it's introduced". However, in order for this device to be effective, a stronger idea should take the original plotline's place and lead the reader away from what was once so important, which does not seem to happen in Mr. Peanut. Instead, his characters slide into stereotypical gender roles (both the women and the men) that don't serve a larger purpose, and the relationships between all three couples devolve into overly dramatic, reactionary roles. While funny at first, the lack of communication between characters becomes frustrating to the reader, and few of his characters are ever asked to take responsibility for their actions. Ross incorporates the real-life story of Sam Sheppard who in 1954 was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife Marilyn and was later acquitted but, again, the limited character development prevents him from fully tapping the wealth (and the thrill) of that resource. 

However, Ross successfully encourages readers to find parallels in the three couples' situations by weaving similar details throughout each story line. His use of description, particularly his sense of place (whether in New York, Hawaii or Ohio) transports readers and allows the setting to contribute to the telling of the story. And his attention to descriptive detail creates vivid images that stay with the reader. The end of Mr. Peanut starts to pick up, and the information given about Alfred Hitchcock explains some of the structural choices that the author makes, though it feels like the reader is waiting alongside him to figure out the ending. However, once he gets there, it is quite stirring, and motivates readers to start the book all over again.

Though I don't think that Mr. Peanut is a thorough examination of the nature of marriage or relationships, I do believe that Ross is attempting something deeper with this novel. The underlying themes are engaging (if not a little controversial), and his work invites discussion. I waiver between recommending this book and not, but I think that if you take the time to consider it, especially if you have the commitment to read it a second time, there are many interesting conversations to be had.

A MacGuffin is essentially a filmatic diversion, popular in thrillers, which tends to be the central focus of the film in the first act but later declines in importance - sometimes to reappear at the climax of the story, sometimes to be forgotten entirely. Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term "MacGuffin", but it was apparently coined by Hitchcock's Scottish friend, screenwriter Angus MacPhail. There is no official etymology of the word, but guff is slang for nonsense/baloney, the Mac part speaks for itself, and Hitchcock once illustrated the concept by telling a story about a mythical "apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands", which lends some to think that guffin is a play on the mythical griffin.

Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie

This review was originally published in July 2010, and has been updated for the April 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Peanuts and Anaphylaxis

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Call Me American
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Last Ballad
    by Wiley Cash
    A hundred years ago or so, farming land west of Charlotte, North Carolina was given over to giant ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family caught between present and past.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Place for Us
    by Fatima Farheen Mirza

    A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Patel's stories introduce a bold and timely new literary voice.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A P Saved I A P E

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.