During a visit to the library last Thursday, Quick, a South Jersey native, talked about his memories of his Uncle Pete, who served as the inspiration for his new book, “The Reason You’re Alive.”
New York Times bestselling author and Oaklyn native Matthew Quick now lives in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but he still retains a strong connection to South Jersey and his family.
Quick’s newest book, “The Reason You’re Alive,” was released last week and was inspired by his grandfather, a World War II veteran, as well as his uncle, Pete Quick, a Vietnam veteran and long-time resident in South Jersey. Pete lived in a few South Jersey towns, including Haddonfield and Cherry Hill.
“Without my grandfather and my Uncle Pete, I wouldn’t have written this book,” Quick said.
To kick off his book tour, Quick returned to South Jersey, visiting the Cherry Hill Public Library on Thursday night. Speaking in front of a full conference room, Quick spent most of the night talking about Pete and how his uncle inspired him to write his newest book.
The main character in “The Reason You’re Alive” is David Granger, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran who, after having brain surgery to remove a tumor, decides to confront various difficulties he had in the past. As the book goes on, Granger, a patriotic, opinionated American, tries to stay true to his beliefs as he seeks closure toward the end of his life.
Quick said Granger is not supposed to be his Uncle Pete, but the book’s main character and his uncle do share the Vietnam veteran connection and similar personality traits. Quick shared with the audience numerous memories he had of his uncle.
Quick talked of how his uncle had to have brain surgery when Quick was in his 20s. Quick said after the surgery, Pete began telling him story after story about Vietnam.
“Over the next couple of decades, he’d find ways to tell me all of these stories,” Quick said.
After Quick’s writing career took off, he would talk with Pete of how they would someday compile Pete’s memories of Vietnam for a future book. Around when Quick’s novel “The Good Luck of Right Now” was published in early 2014, Pete became sick again and had to spend an extended period of time in the hospital. Pete began calling Quick frequently during this time.
“I would say, ‘hello’ and then I wouldn’t say another word for another 90 minutes,” said Quick, who admitted he was dealing with bouts of anxiety and depression at the time. “It would be my uncle ranting about the past and his life. He would tell me stories about my grandfather. He would tell me stories about his childhood. He would tell me stories about Vietnam.”
Pete would constantly remind Quick about how he was going to to visit him in the Outer Banks and compile stories for a book. However, Pete passed away in July 2014. Quick realized he didn’t have the material to write a nonfiction memoir on Pete’s experiences like they had originally planned.
“When he died, I couldn’t write the kind of book he wanted me to write,” Quick said.
Instead of writing a nonfiction book on his uncle’s experiences, Quick poured what knowledge he had, formulated a character featuring Pete’s tough but lovable attributes, and wrote “The Reason You’re Alive.”
“I found the voice and I took off,” Quick said. “My editor, HarperCollins, loved it. They sent it to L.A. and the people loved it there.”
Quick’s novel explores a number of themes, one of which is the polarization of politics in the country. Quick describes Granger as someone who is on the far right politically. On the flip side, Granger’s son, Hank, is on the far left. Part of the book explores the polarization of Americans when it comes to political beliefs.
“I was writing it at a time where all of that stuff was bubbling up,” Quick said.
“(The book) takes on a heightened significance now that I’m not sure I intended when I was writing it.”
On Thursday night, Quick recalled when he began going to college at La Salle University and how he began moving more toward the left politically, conflicting with his family’s beliefs.
“It put me in conflict with my tribe,” Quick told the audience. “All the stuff I learned growing up, now I had to weigh that against the worldview of people I was meeting. That was uncomfortable.”
Quick believes in not judging people based on what they believe. In his book, the characters try to look beyond the political beliefs of others to forge stronger relationships, and Quick feels people should try to do so in real life as well.
“I think we’d all do well to reach across political lines and have conversations,” he said.