Matthew Quick is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, turned into the critically-acclaimed movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. I’ve never read the book nor watched the film, and it was merely coincidence that I picked up The Good Luck of Right Now. But if the rest of his work is as moving, count me in as a fan.
The protagonist of this novel is Bartholomew Neil, a thirty-eight year old man who lives with his mother and suffers from that, in addition to being introverted and on the autism scale. He has no friends, has never had a job, and was once arrested for accidentally soliciting an undercover cop dressed as a prostitute. His father isn’t in the picture, nor are any other extended family. As a result, when his mother dies, he has no clue how to live since his entire life has been revolved around her. In the words of his social worker, now he has to find his flock. With the help of her, a drunk Irish Catholic priest, a feline-obsessed man who believes in aliens, and Bartholomew’s secret crush the Girlibrarian, he might just figure it out.
Oh, and also Richard Gere, his mother’s favorite celebrity, whose “Free Tibet” letter she kept in her underwear drawer. Her illness caused her to confuse Bartholomew with Richard Gere, and he kept up the charade to keep her happy. But now the spirit of Richard Gere lingers with him and prods him into doing things he wouldn’t do himself, and writing letters to Richard is the only way Bartholomew feels like he can make sense of his new world.
From writing the above plot description, I am struck again by how strange and seemingly unworkable this book is. But it’s quirkiness belies the sweet and inspiring heart of the matter. Everyone struggles with their identity and with trying to belong, and Bartholomew is odd and knows it. However, he’s also a person who earnestly wants to do the right thing and who is free with his generosity, which makes the reader sympathize with the shitty hand he was given in life.
The title comes from Bartholomew’s mother, whose belief in the good luck of right now means that whatever ill is done to a person results in good fortune coming to another (i.e. there’s balance in the universe). In that sense, it’s not bad luck but good. For example, with his mother’s death, Bartholomew believes that maybe a homeless man found shelter or a hungry child got fed or a bomb in the Middle East didn’t explode. I don’t necessarily believe in this belief, but it’s certainly uplifting and I can see how it can get someone through difficult times.
This belief isn’t at all at odds with the strong religious presence in the book, an element that I thought I would dislike because it can easily be in-your-face. Both Bartholomew and his mother are devout Catholics, attending Church weekly. Father McNamee, a priest who defrocked himself after failing to hear from God, is one of the few constant figures in Bartholomew’s life. While they all have moral flaws, they are striving to be good people and it feels very human that they sometimes succeed and often don’t. The end is slightly cliche and will not surprise most readers, but builds on the theme of acceptance despite flaws and the links between faith and family.
My two minor irritations with the book were that everyone was so bizarre and yet had no major life problems. For instance, Bartholomew doesn’t have a job but doesn’t worry about paying the bills after his mom dies. He just casually mentions that he doesn’t really know how it works. I guess it’s in keeping with having faith in the universe but came across as a mite unrealistic. Meanwhile Max was able to hold onto a steady job despite his verbal vomit of expletives – I know of “normal” people who have trouble staying employed in this economy.
Despite these stretches of credulity, I shamelessly cried throughout most of the book because I was so touched by the character’s experiences and the evocative language in which Quick described them. So warning: only read if you’re willing to put up with emotional turmoil and, if you are, bring the tissues.