Matthew Quick Talks 'Every Exquisite Thing' And The Writing Life


Though oddball and loner characters may be his forte, Matthew Quick is more than just quirky. Yes, the author of The Silver Lining's Playbook is skilled at depicting those ticks and tendencies in people that find them somewhere on the spectrum, but the spectrum is yours to name — at least in Every Exquisite Thing , Quick's latest novel, in which the characters, grappling with some mental health issues, are never diagnosed. Quick writes characters who are scrappy, doing whatever they can to get by. And we all know that getting by often takes us to desperate lengths.

In Every Exquisite Thing, protagonist Nanette O'Hara is dealing with the overwhelming normalcy of her high school life by forging meaningful relationships with unlikely friends and books, in particular a book called The Bubblegum Reaper by Nigel Booker, with whom she forms a friendship. That's right — at its core, Every Exquisite Thing is a story about literature's power to change lives. As Quick told me in an interview, there were "many" such titles in his own reading history ("Slaughterhouse-Five, Invisible Man, Soul Mountain, and Norwegian Wood," to name a few). And witnessing that life-changing reading experience in others inspired Quick's latest novel. "When I was teaching, I used to love watching teenagers experience the transformative powers of literature for the first time," he tells Bustle. "I get fan mail from teens now and those are often about discovering the alchemy of words. Their joyful sentences explode off the page."

Every Exquisite Thing also captures the joys and squirms of young love — and how those romances can shape one's identity. Of those formative years called adolescence, Quick says, "Naivety can be beautiful. I like returning to that hopeful time when life was still largely a blank." In Every Exquisite Thing, he highlights that joyful beauty through figurative language: his similes often show up when Nanette's emotions supersaturate an experience. When she's discovering her affinity for Little Lex, a poet from another high school that she meets through Nigel Booker, Nanette notices that, while talking to Lex, "[she] was enjoying [herself] immensely, that time was flying by like pelicans over the sea while you stretch out on a towel during a hot summer's day."

"'Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you have to do it,'" Nigel Booker tells Nanette. His advice liberates her and lets her start questioning the choices she's been making her whole life — playing soccer, for instance, because her father invests money on her behalf every time she scores a goal. When I talked to Matthew Quick, he reminded me of the risk involved in his own decision to pursue writing full-time after a successful — and consuming — teaching career. He says:

That willingness to go all-in paid off. Quick says "writing The Silver Linings Playbook... felt like I was crafting something salable for the first time. It was an exhilarating and terrifying feeling." And these days, he's long out of his in-laws' basement. Of his writing process, he says:

What readers will like about Quick's protagonist, Nanette, is her altruism. Despite dealing with depression and some other pretty serious emotional issues, she's caring, someone willing to help other people. That generosity reminded me of something Quick embodied when I asked him about his own personal relationships. He's married to writer Alicia Bessette, and the two read one another's work. From living with another artist, Quick has learned a lot. He says:

Quick's relationship with Bessette is a reminder that some stereotypes about writer couples are unfounded. He calls Alicia his "best editor" and shares all his work with her before sending it out into the world. And Quick also told me there are other myths about writers — especially today's writers:

And Every Exquisite Thing, despite being set in the contemporary moment and having a completely heart-melting scene of Nanette and Lex Facetiming while they sleep, is perhaps most of all a love note to simpler pleasures. They're so often free: a good book; a new friendship; a first, starlit kiss.

Every Exquisite Thing is available now.