Reviewed by Harriet Devine
Mom liked to celebrate the little things. Like finding a forgotten wrinkled dollar in a lint-ridden coat pocket, or when there was no line in the post office and the stamp sellers were up for smiles and polite conversation, or when it was cool enough to sit out back during a hot summer – when the temperature dips dramatically at night even though the weatherman has predicted unbearable humidity and heat, and therefore the evening becomes an unexpected gift.
‘Come and enjoy the strange cool air, Bartholemew’, Mom would say, and we’d sit outside and smile at each other like we’d won the lottery.
Mom could make small things seem miraculous. That was her talent.
Bartholomew Neil is thirty-eight, and his beloved, loving, slightly crazy mother has just died after a long illness. He has never had a job or had to look after himself in any important way. He is used to being called a retard, but he is far from stupid, just painfully shy and wholly unaccustomed to dealing with the outside world. His grief counsellor Wendy is urging him to ‘leave the nest’ and ‘find his flock’, but he has no idea how to begin. He’s set a goal for himself — to have a drink in a bar with someone of his own age — but as yet does not know how he will achieve this. And on top of everything else he has a crush on the ‘Girlbrarian’, as he calls the silent, rather strange young woman who works in the local library.
Apart from Wendy, who has significant problems of her own, Bartholomew’s only contact with the outside world is Father McNamee, who has been part of his and his mother’s life ever since he can remember. But Father McNamee is rapidly falling apart and soon moves in with Bartholomew, a rather mixed blessing as he is usually either on his knees praying to a God he has ceased to believe in or falling-down drunk. So, Bartholomew turns to someone who he knows to be wise and good — Richard Gere. Of course, he doesn’t know Richard Gere, but he was his mother’s favourite film star, and the two of them were much impressed by his work for Tibet and his friendship with the Dalai Lama. He starts to write letters to Richard Gere, and though he doesn’t get, or expect, any replies, he finds the process helpful.
So, it is with Richard Gere that he shares his often bewildering but ultimately helpful experiences. He describes the group therapy sessions he starts to attend on Wendy’s suggestion, where he discovers to his surprise that the group consists of just two people, himself and Max. “‘I wanted to warn you about Max’s…demeanour’”, says Dr Devine the therapist. “‘What the fuck, hey?’ a man said as he walked into the room from the stairwell. ‘Fuck this. Fuck this’”. Despite his demeanour, though, Max turns out to be an entirely likeable, though admittedly strange, person, who is grieving terribly for his dead cat Alice. His beloved sister Elizabeth also happens to be the Girlbrarian, a bit of serendipity that is not lost on Bartholomew. And soon, accompanied by Father McNamee, Bartholomew, Max and Elizabeth set off for Canada, where Max fulfils his long-held desire of visiting the Ottawa Cat Parliament, Bartholomew finally learns the identity of his unknown father, and he and Elizabeth start to get to know and trust each other.
This is a truly lovely book. It’s funny, sad, thought-provoking, and immensely heart-warming. Matthew Quick is already celebrated for The Silver Linings Playbook, the story of one damaged man who finds peace and happiness through a relationship with almost equally damaged woman, so you might think that he’s just replaying the same sort of formula again here. But you would be very wrong. Yes, three people who are indeed damaged in various ways do come together and help each other, but there the similarity ends. I actually enjoyed it more than the earlier novel, perhaps because the issues it deals with are so wide-ranging. Bartholomew’s progress to stability and happiness comes through a variety of channels – from his one-sided relationship with Richard Gere, from what he understands of Buddhism, from his reading of Jung, from his mother’s belief in what she called the good luck of right now, and from his faith in serendipity. Thanks to all these, he manages to find his way through the new bewildering world he finds himself in, has some extraordinary adventures, and ends up… well, you’ll have to read it to find out, but I can tell you it’s a happy ending.
This novel is obviously going to be a huge hit – the film rights have already been sold but do please read it before you see it on the screen. Matthew Quick writes with beautiful simplicity and perfectly judges the sensitive material he is dealing with here. Wonderful read. 10/10.
Harriet is one of the editors of Shiny.
Matthew Quick, The Good Luck of Right Now (Picador, 2014), 338 pages.
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