As Adam Ross’s friend (first) and editor (lately), I’ve been interested to see how reviewers are approaching his elaborate first novel, Mr. Peanut. Helen Keller herself could tell within just a few pages that this is something other than straightforward narrative realism, that you have to develop a sense for what’s actually happening and what certainly isn’t and then what that might be all about. There are subtle hints all along, as well as obvious impossibilities. Chief among these is Sam Sheppard, who clearly didn’t survive his various trials after the brutal murder of his wife, Marilyn, only to become a police detective in New York City. So one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that both Sheppard and his colleague are, well, coming from somewhere else, and that their investigation isn’t happening in real life but in some alternate universe. Of course one can then figure out who’s behind that. And its complex yet seemless construction counts among Mr. Peanut’s many beauties, each storyline building its own momentum and adding to the novel’s overall, in effect a puzzle that each reader has to solve just as these “detectives” are trying to determine what in the world happened to Alice Pepin and whether her husband, David, as it happens a designer of games, had anything to do with it. Still, I see reviewers pointing out (idiotically) that Sheppard would by now be a very old man — in fact he would be dead! — or would have had a hard — indeed an impossible! — time getting through the police academy. Duh. And that’s only one example of students not doing even a cursory job with their homework, thus earning some very poor marks. Thus far a couple do seem to understand how the novel works, more or less, though they haven’t commented on how its Escherlike code can be broken, or why it’s so essential to this story, thus turning a B+ into a B- or worse by failing to finish their papers. But I’m hopeful an A student might yet come along….