Matthew Quick, the bestselling author of Silver Linings Playbook, has a new book out. Living on the Outer Banks for a number of years now, Quick decided to debut his new novel, We Are the Light, locally. Hosted by Jamie Anderson of Downtown Books in Manteo, he met with some 50 or 60 guests and a live stream on Tuesday night, November 1 at the Galley in Nags Head to introduce his book to the public.
Silver Linings Playbook, published in 2008, was Quick’s debut novel and was made into an Oscar winning movie starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro.
Quick’s novels focus on emotional and psychological dysfunction, but a hallmark of his style is that, even though his characters struggle with depression or anxiety or other forms of mental anguish, he portrays his characters with compassion and love of life making them sympathetic and recognizable.
We Are the Light is written very much in that same vein. The issues Quick examines in the story could easily create dark, even horrific, characters and plot, yet it never descends to that level. It is, in fact, an uplifting story even though it takes on an act of unimaginable horror.
In Majestic, PA Jacob Hansen walked into the Majestic Theater on a December evening and slaughtered 17 people before he himself died. Lucas Goodgame watched his wife, Darcy die along with 16 other friends and neighbors.
That much we learn quickly, and readers also learn that Goodgame is seen as a hero, a role that he neither wants nor understands.
The novel is a series of letters Goodgame writes to his Jungian psychoanalyst Karl. Karl also lost his wife in the massacre, and after her death, he is no longer seeing patients.
But Goodgame cannot accept that his analyst will no longer see any patients, and he has taken to breaking into the consulting room and leaving letters
“Dear Karl,” he writes in his first letter. “First, I want to apologize for coming to your consulting room even after receiving the letter saying you were no longer practicing and, therefore, could no longer be my—or anyone else’s—analyst.”
What follows are 18 letters representing the 17 victims and Jacob Hansen that detail an uplifting story of the individual, community, and spiritual healing. The characters are complex, and each has their own quirks and mannerisms making them and the story believable and very enjoyable.
The novel, unlike anything else that Quick has written, has an element of autobiography about it, something he discussed at the national debut of the novel.
In 2018 he stopped drinking—became sober.
“And my big great reward for getting sober was a crippling writer’s block…that lasted for three and a half years,” he told the audience. “Sometimes a year would go by, and when I had 10 pages. I would show these pages to my wife hoping these are going to be good and she would read them, and she’d come back with tears in her eyes, like a bad kind of what happened to my husband? It was this humiliating and humbling thing…At the time it was emasculating. It was scary.”
To work through his writer’s block, Quick started working with a Jungian psychoanalyst. Based on the theories of Carl Jung, one of the outstanding characteristics of Jungian analysis is a very deep bond that often develops between the analysts and the analysand.
For Quick that bond was real and the fear of losing it became the seed that created “We Are the Light.”
“I started to get really paranoid that my analyst was going to leave me because I was bonding with him tremendously. And I felt really dependent on it and I needed those sessions,” he explained.
From that paranoia came the germ of an idea.
“I thought to myself, ‘What if I had a character where that happened?’ And then I thought, ‘What if he’s in the theater and there’s this horrible tragedy, and when he needs his analyst most the analyst doesn’t show up?…And I said, ‘Well, what if you started writing letters? And then I went up into my room, and I typed in, dear Karl, and the writer’s block was over. It was like eight to ten hours a day for a month just every single day. It was heavy and euphoric,” he said.
There are other autobiographical elements to the story as well. Goodgame works at the local school, although after the horror of what happened at the Majestic Theater he’s on paid leave. There are little quirks and pieces of information about how education and schools work that could only be written by an insider.
Quick taught high school English for a number of years before deciding to become a full-time novelist. He has said on a number of occasions that he truly enjoyed working with kids; however, in an article published recently by the Outer Banks Voice, he noted that he was telling his students to follow their dreams, but he wasn’t.
It’s good that he did follow that dream. “We Are the Light” is a remarkably uplifting novel of the restoration of hope and the power of life that overwhelms the darkness of the act that created it.