Everything happens for a reason.
If you can read that sentence without rolling your eyes, you just might get a kick out of Matthew Quick’s twee, offbeat new novel, “The Good Luck of Right Now.”
The story is written as a series of letters from a “developmentally stunted” devout Catholic Philadelphian named Bartholomew Neil to Richard Gere (yes, the star of “Pretty Woman”). In the book’s opening letter, we learn that 39-year-old Bartholomew has lived his entire life alone with his mother. She recently died, and while he was cleaning out her things, he found a form letter from Gere urging Americans to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics in light of China’s crimes against Tibet. The actor was Mom’s favorite movie star, so Bartholomew interprets this discovery as a sign. “Maybe you are meant to help me, Richard Gere, now that mom is gone,” he writes.
And Bartholomew is definitely going to need some help. Without his mom to look after, he has nothing else to do but hang out at the library, write in his notebook and “listen to the birds.” More help arrives through a cast of misfit characters, including an alcoholic priest, a shy librarian who may have been abducted by aliens, and her foul-mouthed brother, whose “personal dream” is to visit Ottawa’s “Cat Parliament.” (A real thing, apparently.)
The novel follows this motley crew and its attempts to heal from various traumas and misfortunes. Bartholomew copes by espousing the Good Luck of Right Now, a sentimental philosophy inherited from his mother, which says that whenever something bad happens to you, it leads directly to something good happening elsewhere.
There are several dull spells along the way, such as when Bartholomew tells Gere what it was like to watch “An Officer and a Gentleman” without his mom for the first time. For almost three pages.
Perhaps it sounds unfair to be too hard on the prose in this book because the author writes as a simpleminded character. But surely even Bartholomew can do better than treacle like “Do the colorful flower petals cry and mourn when they are no longer contained within a green stem?” And “Her eyes are sometimes the color of a May sky at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday, and sometimes they are the color of polar bear ice.”Polar bear ice?
Quick, who has received a PEN/Hemingway Award honorable mention, has proved that he can tell a good story. (His first novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook,” became a Hollywood hit.) But “The Good Luck of Right Now” would make even the most colorful flower petals cry and mourn.
Wilwol is a Washington-based writer.
THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW
By Matthew Quick
Harper. 284 pp. $25.99