“Dear Mr. Richard Gere.”
As far as first lines go, this is a new one. Yet so starts every single chapter of the brilliant Matthew Quick’s latest novel, The Good Luck of Right Now (Harper), which follows the grieving process of genuinely bizarre 38-year-old Bartholomew Neil after the death of his beloved mother. After finding a “Free Tibet” flier from Gere amongst his mother’s personal belongings, Neil takes to impersonating the famous actor throughout the last few weeks of Mrs. Neil’s life. The novel is then made up of his letters to Gere (hence the repeated opening line) as Bart struggles to find himself in the absence of his mother. As the book progresses, however, so too does his relationship with his unsuspecting mentor as he frequently engages in full-blown internal discussions with the actor, as well as with the “angry little man” inside his stomach.
Since David O. Russell’s 2012 film adaptation of Quick's Silver Linings Playbook, it is difficult not to compare characters, or to at least recognize the similarities between the SLP protagonist, Patrick, and our new main man, Bartholomew. While the former grappled with issues mirroring bipolar disorder, Bart seems on the brink of full-blown schizophrenia. In his letters to his famous “friend,” he details his difficulties navigating the world without his mother with genuine and oddly touching honesty.
We both began pretending. She pretended I was you, Richard Gere. I pretended Mom wasn’t losing her mind. I pretended she wasn’t going to die. I pretended I wouldn’t have to figure out life without her.
Also taking Mrs. Neil’s death rather hard is Father McNamee, the local priest who, upon apparent receipt of instructions from God to “defrock” and move in with Bartholomew, does just that, in the hopes of helping him “heal.” Spirituality is a constant theme in Quick’s work, and is no less present here as Bart explores his own feelings based on the influences of his new, thoroughly Catholic housemate and his new, Buddhist mentor. Despite the unusual circumstances, the emotions that he encounters along his journey are distinctly familiar.
Or maybe like looking into a well, and feeling the urge to step away, so you wouldn’t fall in – and yet you lean in a little closer anyway.
Herein lies Quick’s talent — in his ability to make the seemingly outlandish utterly relatable. Who hasn’t had these moments of existential crises whereby the same self-reflection that can be so terrifying is, at the same time, addictively fascinating.
Quick’s main characters tend to skew towards the “troubled” end of the spectrum, at least in the sense of what is deemed socially acceptable behavior. What is keenly endearing about his heroes, however, is their willingness, not only to acknowledge their quirks, but also to embrace them fully. Bart is aware of his outward impressions, appearing bizarrely attached to his mother and unusually inept at the so-called ‘normal’ social behaviors of a single 38-year-old man. Yet despite goals to achieve a basic level of normalcy with his own bucket list of sorts of age-appropriate activities, he is entirely understanding of, and very open to explaining, his eccentricities.
That his quirks stretch well beyond the ‘norm’ does make Bart, and many of the other characters in the novel, somewhat difficult character to relate to. He is, nevertheless, utterly engaging. As he becomes increasingly swept up on his tandem quest for normalcy and enlightenment so, too, do we.
The Good Luck of Right Now has already been optioned for the silver screen by DreamWorks. Who’ll play the latest quirky Quick character? Place your bets.