An ailing Vietnam veteran named David Granger – a gun-toting Philadelphian with a penchant for right-wing conspiracy theories – finally realizes he needs to make things right with another veteran he wronged decades ago. Along the way, he tries to restore his relationship with his left-leaning son Hank, reconnect with his 7-year-old granddaughter Ella and show that there’s more to him than meets the eye.
That’s the premise of author Matthew Quick’s latest novel, “The Reason You’re Alive,” published by HarperCollins on July 4. He’ll be doing back-to-back book signings in Chapel Hill and Raleigh on Monday and Tuesday, July 17 and 18.
You might know Quick as the author whose debut novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook,” was turned into a critically acclaimed film starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. The 2012 movie, which earned eight Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, is about a teacher dealing with the aftermath of a nervous breakdown.
Quick quit his job as a teacher to write and is open about his own struggles with anxiety and depression.
He said in a recent phone interview that “Silver Linings” was not autobiographical and that “The Reason You’re Alive” isn’t either. But Quick acknowledges that he writes about the “stuff that gets stuck in my head.” In this instance, his Uncle Pete.
Quick spent much of 2016 writing “The Reason You’re Alive” at his home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where he’s lived since 2014. (He’s from a New Jersey neighborhood near Philadelphia). The Carolina coast is a place where he feels close to his uncle Pete Quick, who built homes on the Outer Banks, including a vacation home called “The Quick Getaway” where the author says he has many childhood memories.
His Uncle Pete, a Vietnam vet, loved dogs, always asked Quick if he was taking care of himself and told his nephew “horrific” war stories.
“He never told me all of the stories,” Quick said. “He’d say, ‘I’m holding out on you.’ There were a couple of things he wanted to do before he told me the complete stories. ... When he passed (in 2014) I really felt kind of like I had this sacred obligation to do something with the half-information he had given me.”
Quick was also feeling pulled in opposite directions politically by his friends on the left and family on the right. He grew up in a conservative, Christian family, but in college, his “needle slid a little bit to the left,” he said.
In “The Reason You’re Alive,” main character David swears frequently, wears head-to-toe camoflauge and talks about the “gooks” he shot in ’Nam. He’s called a racist bigot by his son, who slowly learns to distinguish between his father’s words and his actions such as stepping in when a fellow veteran dies and leaves his daughter behind.
“I didn’t write the book to put out some kind of political statement,” Quick said. “I wrote the book to make people think, ‘Why do we have knee-jerk assumptions about people with different political views?’ ”
The book was written before it was clear that President Donald Trump was a contender in the 2016 election, but Quick believes “The Reason You’re Alive” couldn’t have been published at a better time, and on the Fourth of July (a coincidence that patriotic protagonist David would have loved).
Film studios have already bought the rights to the book – just like with his other eight novels.
After the tour, he’ll write an adapted screenplay for the Weinstein Company – which made “Silver Linings” – that has nothing to do with any of them.
“It’s (based on) a film that has found some success in a different country, and it’s not an English language film, so my job is to adapt it so it would work for an American audience,” Quick said. “I watched it twice in a row because I loved it so much. ... I wish I could talk about it in more detail.”
Quick said this is the first time he’s embarked on a book tour without at least an idea of what his next novel will be and hasn’t scheduled in his writing time yet.
In the meantime, he’s trying not to read reviews.
“I try not to pay too much attention to the reviews,” he said. “That can’t be the motivation for writing the next book. Writing the next book has to be motivated by a feeling of being compelled to make something.”