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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Michelle Reviews: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I can say with an extremely secure sense of confidence that most reviews of Matthew Quick’s new novel, The Good Luck of Right Now, will include two things: an early mention of The Silver Linings Playbook and the word quirky. It is a hard trap to step out of. I’m sure that the mention of Silver Linings will boost interest, but I’m a bit leery of the word quirky. Quirk is niche and this book deserves more than that.

The Good Luck of Right Now is the story of Bartholomew Neil told entirely in letters to his mother’s favorite actor, Richard Gere. Bartholomew is approaching forty, grappling with the recent death of his mother, and his fear of what most of us would call a normal life. He’s never had friends, never had a girlfriend, never really had any relationships outside the shelter created by his mother. This isn’t an issue of overbearing parenting; Bartholomew is decidedly odd. He doesn’t understand many of the thoughts and emotions of others. He can’t read social cues and is often mistaken for “retarded.” Bartholomew’s life never really thrived, but when his mother was alive it wasn’t lacking either. Her death, and his self-imposed guru Richard Gere, awoke in Bartholomew a sense of possibility.

Father McNamee was Bartholomew and his mother’s priest. He has a true connection to God; unfortunately, when Bartholomew’s mother dies God stops speaking to him. That’s when Father McNamee decides to recant his vows to the church and move in with Bartholomew. He believes that helping Bartholomew is his way back into the good graces of the Lord. Father McNamee also has bipolar disorder; he ceased taking his medication and is spiraling into a dark void fueled by alcohol. McNamee is the first in Bartholomew’s new flock. By the end of the novel after an emotionally fraught road trip and a visit to Cat Parliament Bartholomew is well on his way to a new life with a different version of family.

Matthew Quick knows how to write about mental illness. It is a topic that he seemingly has a deep understanding, passion, and no limit of compassion for. Here he tackles a wide array of mental issues, but what is most impressive about it…why his novels about mental illness work when so many fail is that he writes characters not disorders. Bartholomew is odd; reading his words will probably lead you to believe that he has Autism or Asperger’s syndrome, but it really doesn’t matter. Bartholomew isn’t a person with a disorder. He is a person. He’s confused, damaged, lonely, and deeply kind. A label may not make readers feel differently about Bartholomew, but it would put him in a box. All of his issues would seem stem from that box. Quick would rather allow his character tell his story than have a diagnosis do that for him. 

I was hesitant to write a review of this novel. Matthew Quick’s books have come to mean a great deal to me. His style is simple and straightforward but peopled with such unique characters. In both The Good Luck of Right Now and The Silver Linings Playbook we are asked to look at the type of individuals society typically ignores, and when Quick has us look into their lives what we find is an amazing depth of feeling. Sure, there is quirk and there are misfits in abundance, but don’t think for a second that they detract from the ultimate goal of the novel. The Good Luck of Right Now is full of fear and fragility but they serve to affirm the power of self-acceptance, friendship, and love.

There is so much that I could say about this novel. Let it suffice to say that The Good Luck of Right Now will move you. It will make you think about the people on the edges of society not with sadness or pity but with a respect for what they can overcome and the kindness that exists in the world. 

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