Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel

They Don’t Call it Novel for Nothing
by Katie Amundsen

The Biology of Luck isn’t just the name of Jacob M. Appel's novel, it’s the name of protagonist Larry Bloom’s novel as well, the one he has written from the perspective of the eccentric Starshine Hart, his would-be lover. The tale of Larry, a New York City tour guide, is told alongside Starshine’s (or rather, Larry’s fictional depiction of Starshine’s life) in alternating chapters of this innovative novel. The entire story takes place in a single day, documenting the lives of both Larry and Starshine as they brave the day’s events leading up to their scheduled dinner date.

The first thing that struck me about this novel was the incredibly authentic sense of place—that is, it’s unmistakably set in New York City. In fact, there’s a map that folds into the front cover for those of us less acquainted with the city.  It’s no surprise that the novel’s author, Jacob M. Appel, shares a profession with his protagonist. Larry paints a portrait of New York City that is simultaneously colorful, diverse, messy, and unpredictable. It’s clearly Larry’s New York, not the New York of the tourists whom he herds around the city every day. A tip for those planning on picking up The Biology of Luck: Be sure to brush up on your Walt Whitman, whose shadow of influence is often cast over Larry’s sense of the city throughout the narrative.

Appel’s writing style is dense and full of detail, but it is simply fun to read; every word of every sentence had my undivided attention, simply because the way in which these words are strung together is so carefully crafted. Often when reading I would stop at a particularly interesting sentence just to think: wow. In a different novel, this extremely detailed prose might be overwhelming, but in a day-long novel like The Biology of Luck, it works quite well.  Appel also uses diction in unexpected ways. Take this sentence, for example, pulled from the eleventh chapter of the novel: “A lost and found would be a boondoggle of a quixote.”  Keep your dictionaries handy while reading this one, folks.

Starshine’s character was another point of interest for me. In the back of my mind was the constant thought that what the reader sees is not the “real” Starshine—it’s Larry’s projection of Starshine as a character in his novel, a unique perspective indeed. Larry stresses Starshine’s extreme beauty—to the point of it hindering her daily life—but I wondered if this was just love clouding the view of the self-proclaimed “unattractive” tour guide. The novel seems to be full of unanswered questions; Even the ending is ambiguous, which, while a turnoff to some readers, was probably the best way to end the book. Open-endedness leaves more room for thought on the part of the reader, and personally, I like it that way.

Fun, quick, clever, and new, The Biology of Luck is worth the read.  

The Biology of Luck
Jacob M. Appel
Elephant Rock Books
October 7, 2013

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Wow. Can I borrow this and read it? It sounds fantastic! Thanks for a great review, Katie.