In 2004, Matthew Quick quit his day job as a teacher and set out to “become a fiction writer” from his in-laws’ unfinished basement in Holden.
“My mother-in-law was convinced I was going to get sick from the mold,” Quick tells me in a phone interview. But “it was an introverts’ paradise.”
During his Massachusetts years (six, all-told), Quick earned his master of fine arts from Vermont’s Goddard College and wrote “The Silver Linings Playbook.” It was rejected, he says, more than 70 times: “I had no money. I hadn’t worked for three years. I was writing in a basement. Everybody thought I had gone insane except for my wife.”
Then, it was picked up. It became a New York Times bestseller-turned-blockbuster starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro, nominated for eight Oscars in 2013. Lawrence won the Oscar and Golden Globe.
When the film released, Quick was living in Holden. He and his wife, novelist Alicia Bessette, a graduate of Wachusett Regional High School, have since moved to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Quick’s latest, “We Are the Light,” (Nov. 1) is an epistolary novel, at once about gun culture, grief, Jungian philosophy, and the meaning of masculinity. Since surviving a theater shooting, Quick’s protagonist Lucas Goodgame is struggling. He writes a series of unanswered letters to his Jungian analyst, Karl, about his late wife, Darcy, a victim of the shooting; about the shooter’s teenage brother, Eli, who begins camping on Lucas’s lawn, and about the movie he and Eli make as a way to heal the town — and themselves.
I called Quick at home ahead of his virtual talk via East Sandwich’s Titcomb’s Bookshop Nov. 10.
Q. What sparked this book?
A. There’s a two-pronged origin-story. First: I’ve always been a big moviegoer. My wife and I almost considered the movies to be like church — required once a week. When the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, happened, it really affected me. The movies had always seemed like a safe place. Suddenly, I was looking for exit signs. My anxiety [can] get the best of me. I wrestle it down on the page, get it to behave. It’s therapy for me.
So I tried to write this book in 2014 and it just would not come. Then I got sober in 2018, and immediately got writer’s block. I used to say: Never trust a writer who doesn’t drink. When I stopped drinking, I stopped trusting myself. It was hell.
Finally, I reached out for help. I entered into Jungian analysis and bonded with my analyst in a very intense and overwhelming way. I felt dependent in a way that scared the hell out of me. My greatest fear was that something would happen to him — that he’d die — and all of a sudden this man I’d been trusting might vanish from my life.
I put those two things together: What if my character was in a movie-house tragedy and then he’s abandoned by his Jungian analyst? How would he keep his psyche from fracturing? That’s when the story came together.
Q. Why Jungian analysis?
A. I’d always been Jung-curious. My wife started listening to a podcast, “This Jungian Life.” When I was at my lowest, she told me to listen. I was fascinated. I wanted to give analysis a go. It was life-changing. The beginning isn’t fun: the goal is to destroy yourself so you can rebuild yourself.
Q. What did you like about it?
A. That it’s not interested in surface-level pain so much as a deep-dive into your psyche. I was on Klonopin for a while; I drank, I did all the don’t-feel-anything-anymore stuff — this was about feeling all of it.
Q. Another focus of the book is masculinity and male relationships.
A. We hear a ton about toxic masculinity these days. But we forget that young men aren’t hearing: what is positive masculinity? What are we supposed to be doing?
Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, in a blue-collar neighborhood, in a family of fundamentalist Christian Republicans, there were not a lot of men touching me. I remember before high school, at breakfast, my grandfather would hold my hand when he prayed. Just the fact that he was holding my hand would be electrifying.
A. Eli’s brother shoots people; Eli shoots movies. What puts the gun in one brother’s hand, and a camera in the other’s? I’d argue that it’s the men who mentor Eli. That’s something I wanted to highlight. We need more of that today.
Q. You use the term “father-hunger.” I underlined that because it captured so much of the book.
A. I came across the term reading Robert Bly, a poet who started the men’s movement in the ‘90s. I had tremendous father-hunger. I think most of my friends had a certain father-hunger. Not to cast blame on the fathers — I think they had father-hunger. They were not initiated into this way of being where men can accept love without shame. That’s what the book is about.
Q. What do you want readers to get out of this book?
A. There’s a quote by Jung: “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”
In today’s climate, we rush to power. We forget that those two things don’t go together. We forget that we need depolarized spaces, maybe apolitical spaces, for everyone to come together as human beings, regardless of their beliefs or if they voted for the same people. Because love transcends those things. I understand that politics is important. I understand that activism is important. But I think we lose sight of the other pole: that love is important, too.
Interview has been edited and condensed.