Received a copy of The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel through the First Reads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review "Being unattractive is much like being black, Larry thinks:
one makes you a second-class citizen in the world of business,
the other a peon in the world of romance. The only difference
is that there hasn't been a civil rights movement for the
nondescript and homely people of the world, the short, the
bald, the broad-faced Jewish looking men who stumble into
their thirties unloved and unscrewed. Not that it would
An ode to New York in all its tourist trap glory, nightly decomposition, native born hustle, morning cleanse, and rural insomnia. This is a story of an unattractive, short, bald, virginal,self loathing Jewish thirtysomething year old man named Larry Bloom. He is a tourist guide operator that travels across the five boroughs of New York in his coach bus that he lovingly refers to as Big Louise. Without ever feeling what love can bring, Larry has a great desire of fulfilling this lost experience through that of the written word and achieving a life of immortality in the process. Despite his intellectually unstimulating and monotonous occupation he treats it with great respect where he goes out of his way in accumulating knowledge of landmarks encountered by tourists along his route. Blending history and legends with New York's grand mythology with a touch of creative license, Larry does a great job of making the most of the experience for his guests. Just don't try to have a friendly conversation at a drop-off point as he may look at you as if you have five heads or treat you as if you were piece of parsley on your main entree. One indistinct personality characteristic I have found that best represents Larry's failure to succeed is that he keeps himself very socially protected. Beautiful woman and occupational/intellectual superiors are his kryptonite. Larry is a hard lucked lover, but most of that seems predisposed. Given his attitude towards woman it seems like some sort of karmic resolution is coming back to haunt him and his potentiality for bedfellows. It's easy for him to have widespread approach to a group of woman, but when it comes to isolated attempts he shrivels like an aged flower. Despite Larry's failed suicide attempts he longs for immortality which keeps his literary aspirations in line, but what happens when no one wants to read what he has to say? "This is the first critical difference between art and life.
Architects and masons may labor for generations to build
Rome out of brick and mortar, but a fast-talking tour guide
can shape Manhattan with words in a matter of minutes. Larry
is pointedly aware of the second critical difference between
art and life: Rome endures."
Starshine Hart is an activist, attractive, self-assured, strumpet,perpetual sexploiter/philanderer, vegetarian,busy, insecure and sexually liberated young female. All men and some woman want to be with her, but all woman feel inferior. With all of her carnal exploits she self-admittedly has no past experience of arousal or the feeling of intimacy. Her longing for intimacy coincided with her having a long list of sex partners indicates a karmic balance shifting to a future of antisocial personality disorder when it comes to her participation in future relationships with men. These facts makes her statement of wanting to die a spinster more or less a resignation than a free choice. Starshine Hart has had 36 odd jobs throughout her life and her lifelong goal of immortality has always been fame and not fortune because fame was her way of avoiding isolation and insignificance. Her deepest fear is the current fate of her beloved Aunt Agatha who is on her death bed from cancer brought on from smoking. If you aren't born famous, photogenic and lucky you're quickly forgotten when dead, this is Starshine's state of mind at the time of the book and her driving force at the crossroads of her life.
This book signifies my feeling that as a kid the author must have drove his family crazy by spending an inordinate amount of time and energy explaining why he selected mint chocolate chip rather than gold medal ribbon at the local ice cream parlour. We won't even get into the waffle cone and sugar sprinkled cone dilemma. With a litany of characterizations within the scope of one day the author's anecdotes were highly-detailed, but often times I found myself saying why? Spending a whole section of a book at a florist/fruit basket operation didn't seem to merit the effort spent by the author. Sure, you get to meet one of the characters responsible for promoting the focus of the book. And you get to learn the insecurities and precarious nature of Starshine's sexuality as she is getting older and feels she is losing her touch with men. But just a small time earlier her feminine wiles were proved efficient as she was wallowing in her self-pity for a "miscalculated" debit of $45 from her savings account by a credit union. I suppose Starshine's ego was so fragile and that was what the author was trying to dictate to the reader. To me it just seemed a little overdone. "Starshine edges back toward the door. Borasch isn't scoping
out her breasts or thighs; he's staring her straight in the
face. His eyes are sharp as needles. She has encountered men
like Ezekiel Borasch once or twice before-her Uncle Luther
was one of them-the rare breed of desperate souls who wander
through life looking for some elusive formula. Most men are
driven by longings for sex and companionship;they want to
unload their burdens onto your lap, to drown you in cacti,
to follow you home like unwanted puppies. But a select few
want to sponge you of your wisdom, to take rather than give,
as though a conspiracy of beautiful young woman intentionally
conceal life's greater meaning. These men are smart. They are
also often dangerous."
New York, affinity for novelists and performance arts, idiosyncratic, insecure, neurotic,Jewish lead character, intelligent, nebbish, self-indulgent, obnoxious, over-explanation, tragic comedy... At times I thought I was reading a Woody Allen screenplay. There were many familiar characteristics between The Biology of Luck and many of the "Woodsters" films in his catalogue with a remake of the Farrelly Brothers There's Something About Starshine. An-hedon-ia was the working title of Woddy Allen's acclaimed film Annie Hall and is a psychological condition which is the lack of pleasure or the capacity to experience it. For Starshine this condition in concurrence with her depression would explain the manic mood swings between her fear of death, feelings of suicide and the joy she feels when she gets what she wants from other men. Ever since childhood Starshine's relationships with close male friends had been sexually and emotionally one-sided in favour of the male counterpart. In contrast daily encounters with male strangers often favoured her in monetary measures, gifts, or other day-to-day necessities while avoiding the complications of their emotional and physical needs in the process.
This is described as a postmodern love story, with that in mind I would complement it by saying that it is an unrequited, post all men are dogs, turn-of-the-table, 21st century nurtured behavioural female love story. Male today, female tomorrow, the psychoanalyst and fear of commitment in me enjoys the possibilities of love in the future which harkens back to the 1960's at a time I'm told was very pleasurable for all minus the responsibility. Just don't forget modern conventions in the process.
As much as I liked the psychological aspects of the book I couldn't get past the fact that the author inundated the reader with Merriam-Webster's word of the day. The Biology of Luck had an eclectic group of characters that I feel added to the intrigue of the novel and in a way merited more attention than they received. In a way this book reminded me of A Confederacy of Dunces minus the extreme satire. With the prevalence of food carts, the main characters were males in their early thirties, reside in cultural melting pots, socially inept, elements of delusion, academically sound, widely regarded as unattractive, and generally came off as unlikeable but also unintentionally hilarious. Their was also a great ensemble of characters with their own great story. Like that book I would recommend this book to all readers because you just may find what you've been looking for forever. "All pay tribute to life's sole universal truth:
A beautiful girl on a bicycle is communal property."