There are many books that are odes to New York City. There are many books that feature struggling writers and mysterious, footloose, ideal women. There are many books that spin stories inside of stories. There are not many books like “The Biology of Luck.” Why? Because few authors have the hyper-verbal skills of Jacob Appel.
Larry Bloom is a New York City tour guide by day, novelist by night. He has written a manuscript, “The Biology of Luck” (Coincidence? Think not!), and submitted it to a publishing agency. A letter from the publishing agency arrives in the mail that morning the morning the story begins. That night, Larry plans to open it at dinner with the woman he loves, Starshine Hart, a bicycling babe whose manifestos include never doing a job that requires shoes. But first, he has to get through the day. And what a hell of a day. Starshine, hard up for money, beleaguered by overly complicated errands, and inundated by alluring men, is in a similar boat. Will these two even make it to dinner?
While publisher Jotham Burrello immediately fell hard for Appel’s witty prose, you might not. You might immediately suspect some trickery, although you’re amused by salient observations such as the lack of a civil rights movement for “short, balding, broad-faced Jewish-looking men who stumble into their thirties unloved and unscrewed.” You might be at first put off by extremely quirky characters before it hits that these characters are genuinely, originally quirky. And you want to listen to them, be they indigent academics or singularly untalented and frumpy reporters. You might be confused and alarmed by an odd structure that presents itself without explanation, and wildly improbable events that involve flying bagels.
Push all those niggling doubts aside. What you’re objecting to are signs that an author was having fun with his story. By not being too serious, Appel ends up telling a tale with characters and aphorisms that resonate and paint a classic picture of a city where anything can happen and luck is relative. Comparisons to Vonnegut, while lofty and dead wrong when it comes to writing style, are not out of the question in terms of overall plot zaniness and heart. Stick with this novel, and the reward will be great. (Liz Baudler)
“The Biology of Luck “
by Jacob M. Appel
Elephant Rock Books, 234 pages, $16
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