Book Review: The Good Luck of Right Now, by Matthew Quick.

Available in bookstores nationwide.

The Good Luck of Right Now tells the story of a recentlycv_the_good_luck_of_right_now bereaved 38-year-old man, whose whole word had revolved around his mother. Through a series of deeply intimate, reflective letters written to actor Richard Gere, to whom he feels a sort of cosmic connection, Bartholomew Neil tries to make sense of his life and his future.

Bartholomew has a sweet, innocent outlook on life; he has been very sheltered and yet is well-read and curious. His point of view is this story’s hook; he can be both extremely insightful, and terrifyingly naïve (you wonder how he can possibly survive without his mother taking care of him). Quick endows Bartholomew with a beautiful turn of phrase, so that his letters to “Dear Mr. Richard Gere” at times have an almost lyrical quality.

Bartholomew is an observer, and a watcher. He is forced by his circumstances to become a participant in other people’s lives, from a self-defrocked priest to a therapist in desperate need of therapy, from an f-bomb dropping alien believer to a shy and damaged library assistant, and as he attempts to help others Bartholomew confronts his own insecurities and fears as he finally comes of age.

My favourite character was Max, a devout believer in alien abductions who uses the “f-word” in a way that may put off readers who aren’t comfortable with oft-repeated profanity. For someone described by his sister as “simple minded”, he often had a clarity and sense of joy that I really enjoyed.

The book touches on multiple themes: religion and the mysteries of life, how to define family, mental illness, domestic abuse, belonging, fate, the occupation of Tibet, “normality”, and self-acceptance are all covered in a story that takes the reader on a journey from Philadelphia to Ottawa’s Cat Parliament (it is a real thing). I felt many things while reading Bartholomew’s letters to Richard Gere; sadness, joy, hope, and empathy. By retelling events through Bartholomew’s letters, Quick moves the story along at a good pace, and even though I saw a major plot resolution coming way before Bartholomew did, I was right there with him as discovered a truth about his life, rather than groaning that it was so obvious.

I was expecting a light and fun book; what I got was a book that made me think, made me care about the characters, and made me question some of my own world views. That’s not a bad bargain. I wonder what Richard Gere thinks.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore.

The Good Luck of Right Now
by Matthew Quick
Published by Picador
ISBN 9781447247500

The Read: Words of the Day, Wednesday, 19 February 2014

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Book Review: Forgive me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick

This book is in bookstores now.

This is a remarkable book, on several levels. cv_forgiveme_leonardpeacockIt may shock you, sadden you, make you laugh and cry at the same time, stretch credibility more than once, but ultimately it carries a great message of hope and encouragement for its readers. I hope that parents, librarians and booksellers recommend this book to kids who are struggling  – with their identity, future plans, feelings of self-worth, and all the myriad issues which they face daily.  It goes without saying that those same librarians, booksellers and parents should read the book themselves.

Matthew Quick bravely addresses that toughest of all topics in young people’s fiction writing, the idea of suicide.  Leonard Peacock, uber hero or anti-hero perhaps, is about to turn 18 and has a plan for celebrating his birthday.

His school life is irksome, he has few friends, is pretty much a loner, and is confused about a whole raft of things – not uncommon for the modern teenager. He also has a severely dysfunctional parent who chooses to spend most of her time away from home, only returning if summoned to deal with a perceived crisis. This aspect of the plot stretched  credibility for me – but perhaps  there are parents out there who would sooner bolt than deal with troubled teens!

Leonard is a complex and intelligent character, and mostly very credible. His relationships with his teachers ring true (particularly if you work in a school, and have observed the teenager at work). He has a healthy disregard for authority, not altogether a bad thing, and a well-developed sense of trying to be a good person.

The other major characters are generally well-drawn – in particular the teacher Herr Silverman, and Walt the aging next-door neighbour. These adults are the most constant and reliable figures in Leonard’s life, and you get a good sense of how these relationships work through clever dialogue and footnotes (more of that shortly).

Some of the other characters are less developed, but the flawed character of Asher Beal, one-time best friend turned tormentor, is a cracker.

There are many twist and turns in this book, and each time you think you’ve got it, something else surprises you. It’s written in the first person, which is not always comfortable for readers. I imagine Matthew Quick intended this – by using this voice you as reader get inside Leonard Peacock’s head whether you wish to or not. It’s not pretty and not easy being there, but it’s a terrific technique for such a powerful novel.

I mentioned footnotes – unusually for a fiction writer, Quick has opted to flesh out details and background  and provide sarcastic comments in Leonard’s voice by using footnotes. The footnotes are informative, funny, enlightening and it’s a very clever way to avoid breaking up strong narrative with too much detail. I think kids will find this appealing. I certainly did. There’s also the use of letters to Leonard from people in the future – again, an interesting way of managing the complexities in the book which might otherwise disrupt the narrative.

I have deliberately not given out any spoilers in this review – or so I hope. Highly recommended for older teenagers. Despite the occasional hiccup (like the mother!) I really enjoyed the book, and I look forward to hearing what my student readers make of it.

Reviewed by Susan Esterman

Forgive me, Leonard Peacock
by Matthew Quick
Published by Hachette (imprint: Headline)
ISBN 9781472208187