The Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick channels the political anger that is all the rage these days in this scorching family drama. The Reason You’re Alive is narrated with ire and eloquence by David Granger, a Vietnam vet in his late 60s who has just had brain surgery. It’s as if Holden Caulfield grew up to be a reflective, even soulful, Archie Bunker. David’s voice is intimate, personal, occasionally poetic and sensible, even sympathetic. He is, however, filled with right-wing rage directed at everybody—from the government that sent him off to war to his art-dealer son, Hank, a liberal and a hypocrite (two of David’s least favorite traits).
David is recounting his life story for an unspecified report, and we spiral back to his wartime experiences, the harrowing meeting that led to his marriage, the tragedy that followed and the roots of his rocky relationship with Hank. Like Holden, the one thing David seems to love unequivocally is a little girl—Hank’s 7-year-old daughter, Ella. The question coursing throughout The Reason You’re Alive is whether or not Ella—or anything—will prevent David from yielding to his darkest impulses.
For the first half of the novel, the force of David’s voice is electric. After some time, his rants begin to wear thin, dabbling in a certain kind of narrow-mindedness and self-pity we see in angry folks on both sides of the political aisle. The book does move toward an emotional conclusion, offering Hank and David an opportunity for redemption. For all of David’s political bluster, this is a touching, old-fashioned drama about the ties that sometimes choke, but always bind.