The Reason You’re Alive: Honesty comes in the most unexpected characters

The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick book review

What is this about?: David Granger is a man out of his time, which given his time was decades ago, this proves to be a problem as time travel hasn’t been invented yet. So he does his best, or his worst, moving through the world and refusing to compromise most of the time, and angry at everything that isn’t the way it used to be. But here’s the thing, he knows enough to realise he needs some closure of his time during the war…

What else is this about?: David is angry at the changes in life, at how different everything is, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to David is coming to terms with it all in his own way.

Blurb: After sixty-eight-year-old David Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure. He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard – that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline. David decides to return something precious he long ago stole from the man he now calls Clayton Fire Bear. It might be the only way to find closure in a world increasingly at odds with the one he served to protect. It might also help him finally recover from his wife’s untimely demise.

As David confronts his past to salvage his present, a poignant portrait emerges: that of an opinionated and goodhearted American patriot fighting like hell to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand. Hanging in the balance are Granger’s distant art-dealing son, Hank; his adoring seven-year-old granddaughter, Ella; and his best friend, Sue, a Vietnamese-American who respects David’s fearless sincerity.

Through the controversial, wrenching, and wildly honest David Granger, Matthew Quick offers a no-nonsense but ultimately hopeful view of America’s polarized psyche. By turns irascible and hilarious, insightful and inconvenient, David is a complex, wounded, honorable, and ultimately loving man. The Reason You’re Alive examines how the secrets and debts we carry from our past define us; it also challenges us to look beyond our own prejudices and search for the good in our supposed enemies.

Stars: 4/5

Let me start with this quote that David is very fond of in The Reason You’re Alive:

Only the good die young, and I’ve lived nasty. Live nasty, live forever

Everyone has someone like David Granger in their lives, I think. That someone who doesn’t care about political correctness, who has a little bit too much of food-in-mouth syndrome in polite company, but you know what, you love them anyway.

David Granger

David is a Vietnam vet, perpetually at odds with his son, Hank. Given that Hank is his only son and has his only grandkid, kind of a problem as Hank is completely besotted with his granddaughter Ella.

David is also perpetually grumpy at the world for changing on him, and his son for changing along with it. The war haunts him still, even if he won’t admit it to anyone but himself or another vet. He won’t admit it to Hank, who is about as opposite as you can be from him. Let me put it to you this way: if like Silver Linings Playbook this ever got made into a movie, Clint Eastwood would be the perfect casting.

I found myself tolerating David in the beginning, wondering how on earth I was meant to endure this man so stuck in his ways that change is impossible. Then I remembered my grandmother, the strongest woman I’ve ever known in so many ways but the hardest too – she had to be: she was widowed young, and brought up her kids, and sent them to school and university on her own – in South Africa in a time I could not imagine how a single woman would manage that. But she did, and my father achieved everything he did because of her – I am here sitting at a blog, writing because she did that for him. If she hadn’t, where would I be?

That train of thought ran through my head as I read about David, about his devotion to his wife, and a son about whom he spent a lifetime keeping a secret – so his son could think of his wife and not be broken, and so his wife could have some measure of peace knowing she had him at her side through thick and thin, including her depression. David loves wholeheartedly, he loves his son too, though he may not understand him very well.

This is the core of David Granger to me, the reason why as his past is revealed in all its ugliness and beauty that I kept on reading. War changed him, but he understood he needed to take some part of his life back by the end when he marched up to a door behind which was the closure he craved for himselfthat’s a brave man to go forth wanting that, and not knowing at all if he’s going to get it.

David and Henri

Yeah, that’s his son Hank. Jessica, his wife, named their son for her favourite painter, though David preferred Hank. Like I said, David is a perpetual grump, so I found myself wondering if Hank was really as annoying as David made him out to be, or rather a man trying to find common ground with his father after years of giving up on him.

It’s through Hank’s attempts to take care of his father that we find out secrets about David that throw his grumpy narrow-minded persona … maybe like half out the window? It’s all still there, but tempered as Quick reveals even the grumpiest of characters have their hidden depths – we, and Hank, just had to go looking.

This is a character-driven book, driven by the experiences of David and interactions with those around him. People aren’t always what they seem I think and sometimes that’s very hard to realise, but it’s worth the time and the effort. You just might learn something wonderful.

What do you think of David Granger?


  • Great review! I could definitely see this character as you’ve described him here being played as someone like Eastwood and it actually sounds like this one would make a great movie!

    I also like it when books make you take a look at something in your life and reevaluate it a little.

    • Verushka says:

      That is exactly what this one does — make you re-evaluate things. David G certainly is a character very different to others I’ve read!

  • I like character-driven books so now you have me curious. May have to seek this one out!

  • Laura says:

    Sounds like David is a challenge, but in a good way ultimately. It sounds like a good book. I enjoyed your review.

  • Matthew Quick has been killing it lately, and it sounds like this is no exception. After your description of David, I can definitely see him being played by an actor like Clint Eastwood. Some of the people in my family are like David (and your grandmother): hardened by circumstance, but you love them despite their prickliness. I think I’d love this one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.