The Good Luck of Right Now
285 pages (hardcover)
We all remember the now-classic movie Pretty Woman. But, in case you need (or want!) a refresher, here you go:
Ah, yes. The age-old story of the secretly classy and beautiful prostitute who meets the filthy rich guy, whereupon they fall madly in love and live happily ever after.
“What happens when he climbs up and rescues her?”
“She rescues him right back.”
Show me a girl who grew up in the ‘80s, and I’ll show you a girl who adores this fairy-tale movie (to be fair, it has the best shopping spree/makeover montage in the history of movies). I’ve probably seen it one hundred times . . . but my fandom pales in comparison to that of Bartholomew Neil and his mom.
Bartholomew, the protagonist in Matthew Quick’s latest novel, The Good Luck of Right Now, is a thirty-eight-year-old, unemployed man who has lived with his single mom his entire life. He and his mom watched Pretty Woman (and An Officer and a Gentleman and several other Richard Gere movies) together countless times.
Needless to say, Bartholomew is a bit of an odd duck. His mom always told him he is “above average intelligence,” but “just a little off” (“Off in the best of ways. Perfect the way you are.”). Now, his grief counselor, Wendy, tells him he is “emotionally disturbed” and “developmentally stunted.”
Sadly, Bartholomew is in grief counseling because his beloved mother/best friend has just passed away from brain cancer. In her final days and months, as Bartholomew was caring for her and her cancer-induced dementia was getting worse and worse, she began calling him Richard. Richard is, of course, Richard Gere, star of the aforementioned Pretty Woman and Bartholomew’s mom’s favorite actor of all time.
And, at the very end of his mother’s life, Bartholomew pretended to be Richard Gere. It was easier that way, and when Bartholomew was being Richard Gere, he felt stronger, more confident, and more capable.
After Bartholomew’s mom dies, he is cleaning out her things when he finds a letter from Richard Gere tucked into her underwear drawer. The letter is “a form letter [Gere] sent out to millions of people through [his] charitable organization” about the atrocities in Tibet, but Bartholomew’s mother “didn’t know that computer printers could easily reproduce signatures, because she was too old to have ever employed modern technology,” so she saved the letter, believing Richard Gere had touched the paper and licked the envelope.
Bartholomew sees this as a sign and decides to write Richard Gere to tell him all of this and more. He tells Gere how he pretended to be Gere in the days leading up to his mom’s death. He writes about his life goals (first, to have a drink in a bar with an age-appropriate friend), his grief counseling, his trips to the library (where he spends hours surreptitiously watching his crush, “The Girlbrarian,” shelving books), and Father McNamee (the priest at his church, who was a very close friend of Bartholomew’s mom’s). Soon, despite the fact that Richard Gere never responds to any of the letters, Gere becomes Bartholomew’s only confidante and the person to whom Bartholomew looks for guidance.
I like an odd but likeable first-person narrator with a fun voice. I enjoy a well-done epistolary novel, despite the fact that they are super gimmicky (this book is made up entirely of Bartholomew’s letters to Richard Gere). And I am a fan of positive messages (The Good Luck of Right Now is Bartholomew’s mom’s extreme form of optimism—it is the outlook/mindset that everything happens for a reason and that out of bad things will come good ones).
But, when I think of all of these attributes, a particular book springs to mind: Quick’s other adult-audience novel, The Silver Linings Playbook. Odd but likeable first-person narrator? Check. Gimmicky epistolary novel? Check (well, that was journal entries, but same difference). Positive message that is the first-person narrator’s personal mantra and also happens to be the title of the book? Check.
Look, Matthew Quick, I understand that The Silver Linings Playbook was a break-out hit for you. It was a great book, and it was made into a great movie. So, I get the appeal of wanting to duplicate its success. But you can’t just write the same book, change a few details, and pass it off as something new. If the second book is not uniquely fun and quirky and sufficiently different, it is going to pale in comparison to the original. On its own, The Good Luck of Right Now would be fine and cute. But you can’t look at it in a vacuum. And, sadly, in light of The Silver Linings Playbook, it just seems like a sad wannabe.
Who should read it: Read The Silver Linings Playbook instead. Quick got it right the first time around.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander (“A blend of passion and neuroscience, this literary love affair offers surprise insights into the human brain and the benefits of learning a second language.”)
- Wildwood written by Colin Meloy (lead singer of The Decemberists) and illustrated gorgeously by Carson Ellis (Meloy’s wife and the artist responsible for The Decemberists’ lovely album covers)