Matthew Quick has a gift for telling stories around a lovable, self-destructive hero, a gift that’s made the novelist a Hollywood go-to. His first novel, Silver Linings Playbook, we all know about. But there are several more in the stable that have been optioned by producers, including the one just released this spring (and immediately optioned by Miramax), called The Reason You’re Alive.

The story is told by our crusty first-person narrator, a Vietnam veteran named David Granger, a foul-mouthed (very politically incorrect) 68-year-old American patriot recovering from a recent brain surgery. The brain tumor—which Granger attributes to too much exposure to Agent Orange in the jungle—is the catalyst for the plot. Apparently, as Granger was coming out of post-op, the nurses hear him mention the name of a long-ago enemy (and fellow soldier) named Clayton Fire Bear. In coming to terms with some of these long-repressed memories, and thanks to a sudden armistice forged with his estranged son, Hank, David must do some repair work on his past in order to face the present.

Easier said than done for an ornery bastard like David (pardon the French, but if French isn’t your cup of tea, well, then neither is the book). He is at once repulsive and endearing—his “freedom of speech” about the way things are is both comforting (in that nothing’s hidden) and exhausting (in that you wish at least a few things were hidden). He is a walking paradox. The moment you peg him as a classic right-wing gun nut (which he is)—one who sees the world in black-and-white, boot-in-the-rear, Toby Keith America machismo—he loves to brush his granddaughter Ella’s hair. The pages are filled with every racial slur imaginable, and yet David has a more “multicultural” friendbase than his liberal, art-dealing son.

David’s relationship with Hank, like so many relationships between fathers and sons, is willfully stuck in misunderstanding. Each one inhabits what to the other is an uninhabitable understanding of life. But, also just like real life, no matter how fair the caricatures are one has drawn up about the other (and vice versa), they are never complete pictures. And they often say more about the person drawing them than the person drawn. The reader has the advantage of seeing, in both instances, the person behind the ideologies. In one moment, David has introduced his son (recently separated from his wife) to his Vietnamese friend from his workout class, Sue. While David is putting Ella to bed, he overhears his son talking to Sue about him.

Hank was doing bad impressions of me, exaggerating my mannerisms, voice, and conservative political opinions, making me out to be some crazy right-wing buffoon. Always easy to pick on veterans when no one is invading your country…

I was just about to go to bed when my son asked Sue why she hung out with me. He asked the question in a way that implied he couldn’t believe anyone would willingly spend time with his old man.

Sue laughed and said she enjoyed my company.

Then Hank asked why, saying the word why like Sue had claimed she liked having her toenails pulled out with pliers.

“Don’t you ever feel like everyone is bullshitting you?” Sue said. “Just saying what they think you want to hear? Like everyone is constantly lying, and we never really know a single person at all? I don’t feel like that when I’m around your father. I might not always agree with his point of view, but I’m always certain I at least know it.”

Sue gave Hank a chance to respond here, but he didn’t take it. “You’ll miss him when he’s gone,” she said.

Hank’s not the one to blame here, at least not fully—he’s got a lot of baggage when it comes to his old man. The entire book, in some senses, are made of moments where both father and son are made strangers again to one another. Their black-and-white simplifications—which had deadened the relationship over time—are slowly given flesh and blood nuance. They become people again and not ideas.

Of course, Matthew Quick is not just making a statement about ages-old family relations, he’s also talking about current events. There’s certainly a desire to expose the undercurrent of denial in the current state of political division. Sure, his narrator is an outspoken (an under-precise) right-winger. But Quick wants liberals—so prone to play the Enlightened One—to eat their cut of hypocrite pie, to find their oversimplifications just as damning, just as thoughtlessly hateful as their rivals’. Quick does not have an interest in picking sides—he’s showing both sides in each person.

For all the hot air and outlandish generalization, the truth is that David Granger is a wounded older man. His dead wife, Hank’s mother, Jessica, was a painter who committed suicide. She died in her studio, setting everything on fire, including all her paintings (which were inspired by the work of Henri Rousseau). One painting in particular David still wishes he had, one called The Reason You’re Alive, which depicts David in his combat camo (all he ever really wears), amidst the gunfire and terror of the jungles of Vietnam, but holding a naked baby, Hank. There’s an aura surrounding Hank that seems to protect both of them from the dangers of the jungle. But what really drew him in was the way she painted David himself. He describes it this way:

When she let me see The Reason You’re Alive, I didn’t cry but I got a big old lump in my throat. She had captured me perfectly—not just the way I looked either, but how I felt damned, and yet I was still trying my hardest to atone.

David Granger’s real life has become surrounded less by the aura of love and more, instead, by a darker looming cloud of damnation, and the memory of the Native American soldier, Clayton Fire Bear, who he was ordered to discipline harshly back in the war. Clayton Fire Bear, over the years, became the traumatic figure for the entire bloody war. In the event of disciplining, Granger also stole Fire Bear’s family heirloom knife, a hateful act that still burns in David’s conscience. David still has the knife, and though he knows how much hate and trauma has flowed from this act, it is still no easy task to return, to revisit the ghost of your worst memories.

He does, though, and with the help of friends, and by the grace of God, the curse is actually the opening for a blessing. I won’t tell you how it happens, but I will say this: it is a moment of grace—an undeserved reversal that brings David into a new family. It is this moment of grace that frees him—like Scrooge on Christmas morning—to give it all away.

There’s all kinds of continuity in the work of Matthew Quick. His books all touch on issues of mental health and illness. He likes the people of South Jersey and Philly (because he is one of those people). The characters are always incredibly strong. And he’s got real dexterity with potty words.

But the major element of his stories, at least the ones that I’ve read, is this: that people must be loved as they are if change is ever a possibility; and still, as one of his books is titled, Love May Fail. The only starting point, at least from his pen, is the human being sitting right in front of you. Not who you wish they were, not who they could be if only they had the enlightening facts to get them there, not even who they themselves see themselves to be right now. Instead, love cuts right through the BS to the wounded soul below. It sees that one, damned and hoping to atone, gives them a place to stay, and gives them yet another chance at living.