Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Naive hero pens letters to Richard Gere

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A merican novelist Matthew Quick's second novel is a heart-warming, funny, thoughtful and original coming-of-age story with an unlikely hero for whom readers will love to cheer.

Quick had a solid hit with his 2008 debut, The Silver Linings Playbook, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning 2012 Hollywood film. Like his debut, The Good Luck of Right Now features a child-like adult male protagonist trying to reconcile reality with the fantasy life he's constructed in his head.

But his second novel isn't just a reshaped version of his first -- Good Luck is unique and stands on its own merits.

The novel opens in Philadelphia in 2012, introducing us to 38-year-old Bartholomew Neil. Bartholomew has lived his whole life with his doting mother, accompanying her to Sunday mass, watching movies together and hosting dinners for their family priest, Father McNamee.

When his mother dies after a long illness, he's left helpless -- he's never had a job, paid a bill or even had a friend his own age. Worst of all, his mother's illness led to dementia, and she spent her last weeks thinking Bartholomew was someone named Richard.

Why Richard? When Bartholomew finds a "Free Tibet" letter from the actor Richard Gere in his mother's drawer, he believes there must be some connection.

He starts writing soul-baring letters to Gere, detailing his struggle to create a new life for himself. "Maybe you will help me move on to the 'next phase of my life,' " he writes to Gere.

Along with his thoughts on faith, fate, synchronicity and coincidence, Bartholomew's letters chronicle his deepening relationship with Father McNamee, his crush on a beautiful but aloof "Girlbrarian," his sudden friendship with a foul-mouthed cat lover and sessions with a grief counsellor hiding her own troubles.

When fate brings these characters together, Bartholomew just might have the chance to build a life of his own.

The novel is told through the protagonist's series of letters to Gere, which move between Bartholomew's childhood, recent memories and his present life. There isn't a lot of action, but Bartholomew and the supporting characters are so incredibly compelling that the story keeps moving forward.

While readers will feel sympathy for Bartholomew, he isn't creepy, pathetic or pitiable -- in short, he's no Norman Bates. Instead, he comes across as loving, genuine and naive, but ultimately wise.

In that same vein, Bartholomew's mother is also a likable character who filled her son with good advice: "We don't know anything. But we can choose how we respond to whatever comes our way. We have a choice always. Remember that!"

Quick's ability to create deep, multi-dimensional supporting characters is reminiscent of fellow American novelist John Irving. Like Irving, Quick has a talent for making obscure events seem possible, even ordinary, such as when Bartholomew pretends to be Richard Gere to comfort his mother during her dying days.

The theme of fate runs heavily through the novel, which is also peppered with references to psychiatrist Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity, as well as luck, karma, Buddhism and meditations on faith (the Catholic Church in particular).

Despite these heavy themes, the novel is thoughtful and gently provocative, not weighty or forceful. It's a wonderful read from a promising author.

 

Winnipeg writer Kathryne Cardwell works for the University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 G8

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Updated on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 8:13 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

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