Biology of The Biology of Luck

Editor Tommy Dean, Fiction, January 14th, 2014

...playful and eccentric, there is always an underlying darkness...

biology of luck review nailed magazine

New York tour guide Larry Bloom is a physically unattractive, never-published author with a nine-to-five grind, herding privileged tourists through the city. But his lot in life is about to change, maybe, with a book manuscript he’s written about the light in his listless life, Starshine Hart. Starshine is a 29-year-old, job-jumping beauty who attracts the gaze and adoration of nearly every man in the Tristate area, causing her to be constantly pried at, preyed upon, touched, and tormented; she is the objectified Ying to Larry Bloom’s overlooked and underrated Yang. In one evening Larry Bloom will confess his love to Starshine and find out if the manuscript he’s toiled over in her name will be immortalized in print. But first, both Larry and Starshine must make it through another day in New York City.

In The Biology of Luck, Jacob M. Appel has created a story that is similar to the city in which it takes place—whirling and whimsical, chaotic and cathartic, and filled with interesting characters whose life stories form a web of cacophonous culture. As Starshine and Larry wade through their days working their mediocre jobs and running errands, they weave us through this web, from the Bronx to Brooklyn to Staten Island, and everything in between.

This novel is as much about time, place, and people as it is about plot. Appel is more concerned with detailing the lives and traits of his idiosyncratic characters—black market-guru landlords, ex-revolutionary lovers, and delusional Armenian florists—than he is with progressing the storyline. He skillfully balances the fairytale element of The Biology of Luck with creatively relaying the sensory sensations and cultural atmosphere of Gotham’s microcosms.

While the book is playful and eccentric, there is always an underlying darkness. The theme of death is common, and the issues familiar to modern America are referenced time and again. Characters languish in a middling existence despite years of hard work, experience the death of lovers and loved ones, face the fact that their greatest currency—physical beauty—fades with time, or lose their keys during a stressful day.

Part Odyssey, part cartoonish narrative, The Biology of Luck is a book written for the casual weekend readers and literature aesthetes. Appel’s style is wordy, but he has the chops to pull it off. He walks the line between heavy description and convoluted wordiness, but always seems to stay on the right side of it. Appel has already garnered numerous writing accolades for his previous works, including the Dundee International Book Prize, the Tobias Wolff award, the Walker Percy Prize, and the Kurt Vonnegut Prize—not bad for man who works a day job as a psychiatrist.

If you’re looking for a book that’s light, dark, and smart, The Biology of Luck is for you. The plot will keep you reading and the prose will keep you entertained. I’m curious to see what Appel will come out with next, but even more curious to see if his fandom will expand from literati to the general public.

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Tommy Dean

Tommy Dean is a New England native, one-time Bay Area denizen, and a current Midwest resident. He’s worked as an assistant editor and content writer to pay the bills, but likes to spend his afternoons crafting his caffeine high at the local coffee shop while typing madly about whatever enters his mind. Follow him on Twitter @tommymdean or check out his misadventures here.