Summary: A man struggles to find love as he struggles to connect again with reality.
I saw the movie before reading the book. So there was not a surprise on the story line. The movie and the book were fairly close (although the climax is different).
But even though the storylines are close, the power of the book is that it is told entirely in first person from Pat’s perspective.
Pat is just getting out of four years of treatment in a psychiatric facility. He does not realize he has been gone so long and everyone in his family works to help him make the transition by pretending it has only been a few months.
Pat is obsessed with getting back together with his ex-wife. He is sure that if he stays fit (he works out 8 to 10 hours a day) and reads the great books (his wife is a high school literature teacher) and learns to be a nice person, that ‘apart time’ will end.
But it is not only Pat that is having problems with reality. He lives in a home with an emotionally abusive father and a codependent mother. In the movie Robert DeNiro plays Pat’s father as distant but likable. In the book, his father is much more distant and much less likable.
Tiffany is a woman that is having her own problems with reality. Her husband (a cop) died after they had had a fight and Tiffany was never able to apologize. So she has spent the last several years sleeping with every guy she can as a way to seek forgiveness.
Tiffany is a dancer and wants to win a dance competition and chooses Pat as her partner. She talks Pat into the competition by promising him that she will get him back together with his ex-wife if they win.
From the beginning, the reader knows that Pat and Tiffany will get together, but you can also see the impending train wreck as Pat learns more and more of what he has missed over the years of being away from his family. His best friend has a child, his brother is married, the Eagles stadium was torn down and a new one built.
The movie has a lovable Indian counselor that helps Pat find his way back to reality. But he is a much more important character in the book. And if possible to believe, the Eagles (or at least the people that watch the Eagles with Pat) are more important.
It is easy to say that the book is better than the movie. But I really liked the movie. But the book does a better job of presenting mental illness as real without dismissing it. It keeps lots of humor, without making fun of Pat or Tiffany. It places more power in Pat’s recovery without making it a magical ending. And while you can envision a happily ever after, the reality you know would be much more complicated.
This is a case where you do not have to choose between the book and the movie. Both are very well done, they supplement one another. But even if you have already seen the movie, it is still worth picking up the book.