Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fiction Review: The Good Luck of Right Now

Like most of Matthew Quick’s novels, The Good Luck of Right Now is fun, quirky, a little sad, very funny, and has a warmth and tenderness at its heart surrounding its damaged but likable characters. Although it’s not as accomplished a novel as The Silver Linings Playbook or Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, it was still entertaining and even inspiring; I enjoyed reading it, and the characters felt like old friends by the end.

Bartholomew Neil is almost 40 years old and has always lived with his mother. Now, his mother has died after a horrible, prolonged battle with brain cancer, and Bartholomew is alone for the first time in his life. At loose ends, not knowing what will happen next, Bartholomew has no other family and almost no friends, except for Father McNamee, the local priest who’s been a close friend of his and his mother’s for as long as Bartholomew can remember. Father McNamee comes by to check on Bartholomew, but it’s clear he is struggling with his own problems, including a battle with alcohol. Other than him, Bartholomew just has Wendy, his very young grief counselor, who comes by the house. Wendy is trying to help him make friends and find some social support.

Bartholomew describes himself as “different,” and though it is never stated explicitly, it seems that he might be autistic. He has trouble connecting with people, sticks with his familiar routines, and as he himself admits, “I’ve never been particularly good with change.” Making his way in the world on his own for the first time is a real challenge for him, though he has aspirations. Wendy has encouraged him to set goals, and his first goal is to have a beer in a bar with a friend. He has also been silently admiring the Girlbrarian (his word!) at his local library for a very long time.

Oh, and lest I forget to mention it…the entire novel is told through a series of letters that Bartholomew writes to Richard Gere. Yes, that Richard Gere. Although at first this device seems almost too quirky, even for Matthew Quick, Bartholomew explains his reasons for the letters. His mom was a huge fan of Gere’s and loved to watch his movies over and over with Bartholomew. Toward the end of her illness, when the cancer was affecting her memory and brain function, she began calling Bartholomew Richard, so he felt like he kind of became one with Gere during that time. And when he is cleaning out his mother’s dresser after her death, he finds a “Save Tibet” form letter she saved, signed by Richard Gere, asking people (her) to boycott the Beijing Olympics (which she did). He feels a connection to Gere, and perhaps his last connection to his mother, too.

All of this is just the very beginning of Bartholomew’s journey in this novel. It is unique and strange and often very funny (especially after Bartholomew meets another man in group therapy who sprinkles every sentence, big and small, with the f-word!), but it is also warm and tender and has a serious core. In fact, I ended up adding lots of new quotes to my Quote Journal while reading this book. Even the weird Richard Gere thing works into the fabric of the story because it causes Bartholomew to look up Buddhism in the library, so much of what he learns here is very philosophical. 

I ended up rooting for all of the characters – strange, yes, but likable – and hoping things would work out for Bartholomew and his new friends. This is one of those novels that grows on you and reveals more depth the longer you think about it. All in all, I enjoyed this story about eccentric characters looking for connections in a world that hasn’t treated them well and about making your own family.

304 pages, Harper Paperbacks

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