The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel (Amazon)
As I have said in the past, some literary meals are short, sweet, and savory. Some literature is long, intriguing, and calculated to unleash flavor in distinct, well-time moments. There are other books, however, that try to break away from any one mold and produce something more unique. The Biology of Luck would definitely classify as a unique stylistic variation on a love story, both to the characters involved and to New York City in general, the setting for the book. The big question though is whether the uniqueness brings new life to the tale or instead winds up being a bad mix of flavors.
Before we dig out the utensils, let’s go over our usual ground rules:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
With that out of the way, let’s find out just how tasty The Biology of Luck is!
First off, before anything else, I need to address the unique structure of the book. Mr. Appel doesn’t present us *one* novel. Instead, The Biology of Luck is presented as both the story told from one character’s perspective interwoven with the novel said character has written chronicling the life he imagines another character is leading simultaneously. Structurally, it’s a very intriguing way to shift perspectives and lay a cloud of mystery around the female lead, the subject of the novel-in-a-novel, as said chapters are supposed to be pure fiction. It certainly serves its purpose in this fashion, as well as adding to insights about the main character.
The only problem that arises from this is that the events of the fictional book exactly incorporate many of the events that happen to the main character as well. Yes, it is explained that many characters in it are fictionalized versions of people the main character has been told about and has met, but that doesn’t explain the synchronicity of the ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’. This is meant to tie into one of the books other themes about coincidence and luck, but that theme is only tangentially explored. It doesn’t ruin the book, not by far, but especially in the middle stretch of the book, I was wondering if the main lead wasn’t stalking the female lead to write his book until it was clarified for certain.
The next thing I must also get out of my system is that 99 percent of all books written in the present tense give this Starving Author bad, bad gas. Many of those books are inedible to me, the rest leave me feeling horribly ill. When I noticed this entire book was present tense, I was certainly had trepidations as to whether I could even start on the food at my plate. Present tense is VERY VERY hard to write properly for. It certainly makes tense agreement harder and it requires a finer touch and attention to continuity. Mr. Appel mostly succeeds, enough that I could get through the book, and for that I have to applaud him. Still, there were multiple tense errors and every one of them was jarring. Again, not enough to ruin the book, but enough to make me take notice.
In fact, in hindsight, all the problems I had with this otherwise delightful treat was stylistic. The pacing is slowed considerably by the dual novel concept. Each is literally told in it’s entirety and the initial hooks of the first chapters of each aren’t overwhelming, so it was hard to focus and feel truly invested into the book until much deeper into the book than normal. The dramatic pacing itself remains slow for most of the book. It wasn’t halfway through the second act before I really started to get interested in the goings-on of the book and, remember, I am a sucker for love stories. The pacing isn’t helped by some of the tremendous sentences that Mr. Appel feels compelled to use. I counted one sentence with 9 subjects. Another with a 17 part compound object. I’m a big eater but when I get to a sentence that large, one that takes up half a page of my e-reader, I just get sleepy and want to take a nap afterwards. Finally, once I was invested, we hit the ending and the final line, so built up for (no, seriously, there’s a whole paragraph building up the importance of the final line), and to me …. it made no sense. It was a resolution that had no resolution and thus
Here’s the rub though, literary food junkies: despite all those stylistic quirks, tense errors, and snooze-worthy pacing, I still got invested in the book! By the last act, I wanted to see the ending and I wanted to see the resolution of both novels, even if I found myself unfulfilled when I got there. To translate: The Biology of Luck works up until the very end, despite its quirks and flaws. Mr. Appel is a great writer when he is on task and many of the characterizations are delightful. The Biology of Luck also lavishes attention on New York City and it certainly succeeds in making the city part of the story. So, the thing is there is a good meal here worth reading if you can sift through the rubbish bits, especially if you have a love for quirky romances, New York City, or uniquely structured stories. However, if you are a reader who loves a fast-paced book or popcorn reads, this one is not for you guaranteed.
FINAL VERDICT: *** (There is a quality meal to be had here, but there are some quirky flavors and the ending leaves you empty.)