Leaving our comfort zone seems to be getting harder and harder each passing year. Hey, with the polar vortex, Pax and Netflix, it's been hard enough for me to escape my house, let alone the metaphorical bubble that technology has inflated around us, tailoring our lives to our personal tastes -- or something like that.
Imagine, then, how difficult it must have been for Bartholomew Neil to trust a bipolar priest off his meds, a new friend from therapy and a cute albeit once-abducted-by-aliens librarian and end up at Cat Parliament (!) searching for the promise of true possibility. Bartholomew is the protagonist of Matthew Quick's latest novel, "The Good Luck of Right Now." Mr. Quick is the author of the 2008 best-selling novel "The Silver Linings Playbook," which became an Oscar-nominated movie.
Mr. Quick established himself as a master chronicler of broken characters in "Silver Linings" and in "The Good Luck of Right Now" he continues that formula. Bartholomew is, without question, a damaged man. His grief counselor acknowledges as much, saying he is "emotionally disturbed" and "developmentally stunted" from having lived in a "co-dependent relationship" with his mother.
She died after a bout with brain cancer, with Bartholomew spending every minute with her, as he had his entire life. So consuming was his relationship with his mother that he's never had a job, a date or even a beer with a friend. He's 38.
Before his mother died, she started calling Bartholomew "Richard." He assumes it's a nod to Richard Gere, an actor she cherished enough to give up watching the Beijing Olympics. As he attempts to start a new life surrounded by the eclectic cast of characters noted above, he details his actions in letters to Mr. Gere, thinking the actor can be his guide. The novel is told through these letters in Bartholomew's breezy but unsure voice.
While Danny, the main character of "Silver Linings Playbook," exudes optimism, believing the end of his life will contain the "silver lining" of reuniting with his ex-wife, Bartholomew's positivity is tempered. He can't shake the inferiority complex inherent to being an unemployed 38-year-old still waiting for his first kiss.
His mother was always a believer in the "The Good Luck of Right Now." She thought bad events were always followed by good and vice versa, at least somewhere in the world. Bartholomew wants to believe in this cosmic system of balance, but, again, the whole 38-year-old virgin thing hasn't imbued him with confidence. He's the anti-Richard Gere.
At first, I wasn't sure if I liked Bartholomew. He skews a tad stalkerish. Would you write a letter to Richard Gere and ask him if he masturbates? I wouldn't. Bartholomew does. But soon, I was convinced why someone like Bartholomew would and why he needed to.
This is one of Mr. Quick's best skills. The novel's feel-good themes of love, longing and discovery are common in literature and popular culture. His main characters, the vessels through which they are delivered in Mr. Quick's book, are not.
Nuanced characters are a must for good fiction, but how many of our favorites are just ... weird? Mr. Quick ventures to the edges of society, challenging his readers to accept personalities we forgot about or didn't know existed. He rewards us with an irresistible urge to think the best of humanity, to understand not only the need to walk in someone else's shoes but also the altruistic power attained from doing so. He takes us out of our comfort zones.
Bartholomew and the characters around him win us over because he is kind, unfailingly and unreasonably kind. He's the one who's broken, but he tries to help the people who are in his life because they should be aiding him after his mother's death.
At one point, the librarian tells him, "Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than kindness to survive in this world." True, but kindness, empathy and compassion can provide a solid foundation. And Mr. Quick has reminded us how necessary these virtues are through the actions of characters we never think we'd relate to but enjoy nonetheless.
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.