“The Biology of Luck” by Jacob M. Appel (Review)

(*As Published in Existere: Journal of Arts & Literature, Issue 33.2*)


18281738‘Luck’: that unpredictable entity that seems, on occasion, to pull us toward unlikely victories. But do we really need it? Can we conjure some version of it for ourselves?

From the author of the Dundee International Book Prize-winning novel The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up comes a new, richly executed narrative that lays bare the underpinning struggles in everyday moments, and one man’s hope that it may be possible to write one’s own good fortune. No matter what ‘luck’ has to say about it.

The plot follows tour guide and budding novelist Larry Bloom over the course of a progressively more disastrous day as he leads a group of Dutch tourists through New York City. Though unattractive and often underwhelmed by the daily grind of his work, on this particular day Larry believes he is on the cusp of life-altering success. In his pocket is the unopened letter that he thinks might inform him that his novel, The Biology of Luck, is going to be published. And when evening comes, he’ll have his date with Starshine Hart: the woman he loves, and the unknowing lead character in his novel, which he wrote in hopes that it may help to win her over.

The Biology of Luck overflows with the vivid sights and sounds of New York, transporting you to a city as vibrant with possibilities as with tragedies, all of which further come alive within the array of main and supporting characters. With this backdrop, the story alternates between real-time chapters on Larry’s misadventures, and chapters from Larry’s book that depict the concurrent day of the vivacious yet vulnerable Starshine as he imagines it would unfold for her, leading up to and ending with her date with him. And even though as the day progresses Larry occasionally bemoans inevitable failure in his bid to win Starshine’s love, a part of him remains hopeful of his chances of success. The reason: because he’s already written it, charting its course, immortalizing on paper all the luck he needs.

From the outset of this unique, intelligently poignant narrative, that is what seems to lie at the heart of it: luck in the classic sense may be random and unreliable as a whole, but a person’s determined hope can be the deciding factor, beyond it. As Appel writes of Larry Bloom at the novel’s beginning: “…the remotest of hopes. That is the purpose of his book. That is the subject of his book. That is the reason that the city rises from its slumber” (9). Whatever the outcome, hope, more than luck, is the key factor that can ultimately push our stories forward.


The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel is published by Elephant Rock Books.

ISBN: 978-0975374689. 220 pages.