Review: 'The Biology of Luck' by Jacob M. Appel

July 7, 2014

Reviewed by C.A. LaRue
Rarely do you contemplate the various elements of design that are involved in bringing you light. Neither does a casual reader like to look too closely at the bones of a pleasurable read. Yet, The Biology of Luck, the latest novel from the ever-prolific Jacob M. Appel, practically begs for such examination. 

It is not by accident that you will find yourself coming back to its pages again and again like some well-thumbed guidebook.  The novel does, in fact, have the feel of a guidebook with its full-color map of “Larry’s NYC” and its rich descriptions of that city, but it is so much more than the “postmodern love story” or “re-imagined Odyssey” that it has been labeled.

Yes, on the surface it is a journey and a doomed romance of fugly meets hot-mess on a bike, but under that sheen is a darkness that skirts the depths of our neurotic obsessions. Even minor characters, such as the Armenian florist and the lovable, scholarly Ziggy, are deliciously, delightfully nuts.

This is no doubt due in part to Appel’s psychiatry background, but also to the sheer mind-boggling indifference of today’s modern world. Likewise, Appel’s real-life tour guide duties have also influenced the book.  As I said previously, New York City is rendered in intricate detail with even its skuzzier aspects lovingly described.

At times some of these long descriptive passages border on windy, but somehow it all just works. Without the slew of details pulling the narrative along, the novel-within-the-novel slices that are interspersed would not be quite so zingy.

And it is this “inner” novel— a ploy by main character Larry Bloom to secure his future with his fantasy girl, Starshine— that holds the larger story together, and the part that makes this book such a unique offering. You won’t find anything like this on commercial shelves! 

That in itself is a major draw for readers like me— those who purposefully seek out writers willing to take risks.  Not since Niffenegger’s experiments in non-chronological storytelling have I seen it come together so beautifully, but that is all part of the quirky texture of the book. And although Appel says that he has tried to stay away from fantastical elements in this story, there is a fairytale aura that clings to it. 

And speaking of auras, I once heard it said that you should never expect straight lines out of a crooked cobbler, and while I suspect that this line might actually be about economic and political influence, I’m using it here to evoke the Picasso-like strokes of Appel’s New York and the mad-hatter-like questions it raises about inevitability.

After a day inside Larry Bloom’s head, you might decide that the luck supposedly hard-coded into our DNA doesn’t always lead to such certain prescribed outcomes. Or you might just sit back and enjoy the wonky ride. I know I did.

Pick up your own copy today from Elephant Rock BooksThe Biology of Luck is one book that you don’t want to miss.

C.A. LaRue is a writer/artist working out of New Orleans. She studied creative writing at Hollins University and holds a B.S. from the University of New Orleans. She is a registered member of the Tlingit Nation of Alaska with recent work in Deep South Magazine, The Review Review and Belle Journal.  Find her on the web at or on twitter: @bonesparkblog.

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