Knopf Editor Gary Fisketjon on Adam Ross's Mr. Peanut

What follows is a letter by Knopf editor Gary Fisketjon on Adam Ross’s forthcoming debut novel, Mr. Peanut.


Dear Fellow Reader,

It might be worth pointing out that people in publishing tend to feel anxious when a friend or even an acquaintance from the civilian world hands over a manuscript on which we’re then expected to pass judgment. And that’s because this exchange rarely yields happy results and often complicates the good relationship we had enjoyed until then.

But when Adam Ross asked me to read what he’d been working on far longer than the eight years we’d known each other, I was in for an extraordinary surprise. Mr. Peanut immediately struck me as being as audacious and fully realized as any first novel I’d encountered as an editor. What Adam does here is to explore marriage, in all its perverse complexity, with fiendish intelligence and originality. Mr. Peanut is dark yet alluring, with a plot that’s a hugely suggestive blend of passion and commitment, popular culture and true crime. His main character, David Pepin, has been in love with his wife, Alice, since the moment they met in a film seminar on Alfred Hitchcock, and thirteen years after their wedding he still can’t contemplate a day without her—though nonetheless he obsessively imagines her demise. Then Alice is dead, and David is at once deeply distraught and the prime suspect.

Mr. Peanut poses a host of arresting questions, starting with: Is it possible to know anyone fully, completely? Are love and hate two sides of the same coin? And how does marriage fare in either case?

Happily, I’m not the only reader who feels so intensely about Mr. Peanut. Now, once publishers have advance galleys in hand, we send these out not only to review media but also to writers who might ideally feel compelled to comment on the work. Because many of them are deluged by these uninvited requests, my expectations are leavened by common sense as I send out galleys in hopes of getting lucky. And for Adam the first reply came from Stephen King, who in Entertainment Weekly called this “the most riveting look at the dark side of marriage since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” adding that “it induced nightmares, at least in this reader. No mean feat.”

His response was soon followed by Scott Smith’s: “Adam Ross has crafted a diabolically intricate novel, one that presents all the pleasures and challenges of a well-wrought Sudoku puzzle. There’s a whiff of alchemy to the book. You can’t quite believe that its many pieces fit together so snugly, but they do. Once you’ve finished, you run your eye back and forth and up and down, and every way you look it adds up. Mr. Peanut is smart, funny, gripping, and—in its ultimate unraveling—sneakily sad.” And then Richard Russo noted that “it is as ingenious as it is riveting,” a term also invoked by Mr. King, and I hope it becomes a sort of mantra. Riveting, riveting, riveting!

Adam subsequently received a trifecta of stellar advance reviews, starting with Publishers Weekly calling Mr. Peanut “grotesque and tender at once . . . a unique book—stark and sublime, creepy and fearless.” Booklist then reported that it “delivers one scorching scene after another.” Kirkus Reviews was the next to weigh in: “A Mobius strip of a novel, folding the unsavory anticipation of American Psycho into a domestic drama straight out of Carver-esque America.” And since I published Ray Carver as well as Bret Ellis’s American Psycho, to me this astute observation was doubly, even triply pleasing.

The blogosphere, meanwhile, was already humming. Jason Rice, on Three Guys One Book, wrote that “Ross delivers a multifaceted inspection of marriage, telling the story of several different couples in crisis, which is at times reminiscent of Cheever and Updike. On the whole the book reminds me of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty; it carries that same power, the all-knowing and all-seeing brilliance of a writer who is in complete control. Now that I’ve finished Mr. Peanut, I want to stop strangers on the street and tell them about it, the book is that good.” And I’ll give the last word to Megan Sullivan, writing on Bookdwarf: “[It] might be the best book I’ve read so far in 2010. In fact, it might be one of the best books of the year.”

All of this came in many months after Adam finished Mr. Peanut and months before it will actually be published, an interim in which a book’s fate begins to be decided. Therefore such a positive response both gratifying and important, because this is how a novel passes from being known only to a very few (first among the writer’s friends and family, then in the publishing house) to landing in the wider world in shops all around the country.

This precinct, of course, is ultimately (and rightly) ruled by you, the reader, and the fact that Mr. Peanut has already proved mesmerizing, exhilarating, and profoundly moving to a great many others leads me to hope you will feel the same way. It’s a police procedural of the soul, a probing investigation of the relentlessly mysterious human heart, and we couldn’t be more delighted that we’ll soon be putting it in your hands.

Sincerely yours,

Gary L. Fisketjon
Vice President, Editor-at-Large