Friday, 9 January 2015

The Biology of Luck, by Jacob Appel

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought: One of the greatest things about being a reviewer is that you get sent things you might never have discovered. The Biology of Luck is one such find.

This is the story of Larry Bloom, and one key day in his life as a tour guide of New York City. Larry has a date that evening with the woman he worships, Starshine, and he will offer his love. To prove himself, Larry has written a novel, fictionalising Starshine’s life. He called it The Biology of Luck and sent it to an agent.

In the morning, he receives a reply from the literary agency but does not open the letter. He will wait till he is in the presence of Starshine to know if he is a success or a failure. He will risk his day collapsing into double rubble for the hope one ‘yes’ might trigger a second.

The book follows Bloom on one extraordinary day when he swings from optimism and love for his city to maudlin misery which drives him to contemplate jumping off a bridge. Meanwhile, the reader follows Starshine through her day, which is fictionalised in the words of Larry Bloom.

It’s a daring experiment with form and in fact character, as we only grow to know the Starshine as seen through Larry’s eyes. But it works. It’s fabulously written and conjures a cast of secondary characters whom you’d happily follow into their own stories: Bone, the one-armed caretaker; Eucalyptus, the morbid ivory-carver; Colby, the trust-fund plastic-romantic; Jack, the fifty-four year old revolutionary who sees Amsterdam as the promised land; the Armenian florist who can read your luck in your face; Aunt Agatha who loves the feel of fruit and Ziggy Borasch in search of the Great American Sentence... I could go on.

The analytical self-absorption of our two protagonists feels like a hall of mirrors leading us with increasing tension to the big moment. This is a literary comedy, crammed with superb set pieces which border on farce, threaded with observations on New York, history and luck, accompanied by allusions from Homer to Joyce, and references from Whitman to Batman. An absolute delight from a truly impressive writer.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Ned Beauman, Woody Allen, Thomas Pynchon, NYC

Avoid if you dislike: Introspective main characters, unconventional narratives, present tense

Ideal accompaniments: Eat a pastrami and corned beef sandwich. Drink a Manhattan with rye whiskey. Then agonise over whether you’re being clich├ęd or postmodern.

Genre: Literary, humour

Available from Amazon

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