The Biology of Luck

by Jacob M. Appel

Book, 2013



Call number




Ashford, CT : Elephant Rock Books, 2013


Odd-job queen Starshine Hart is about to go on somebody else’s perfect date. At 29, the usually carefree Starshine has realized that it is easier to start sleeping with a man than to stop. Her lovers include one of the last underground members of the Weathermen and the dilettante heir to a lawn chair magnate. Both men have staked their romantic future on her. Her only respite is her impending dinner with the nonthreatening but unattractive tour guide Larry Bloom. But Larry, too, has a stake in her future. He has written a book about their impending dinner in which he fantasizes about Starshine’s life on the day he wins her heart. Juxtaposing moments from Larry’s guided tour of New York City on the June day of his “dream date” with excerpts from the novel in which he imagines Starshine’s concurrent escapades, this inventive structure weaves a highly imaginative love story across all five boroughs. Provocative, funny, and keenly observed, an imagined pilgrimage through the underbelly of Gotham becomes a bold new voice in contemporary American fiction.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member marcyjill
The Biology of Luck is an interesting concept. It contains a novel within the novel that is written by the main character, our hero, Larry Bloom. There are some brilliant moments in this novel, especially as we spend the day traveling around New York City with Larry. It is a wonderful love affair
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with NYC, really.

There were 2 things I struggled with though. One is the fact that Starshine Hart, the love of Larry Bloom's life and subject of his novel, is not a likable young woman. She is selfish and vain and uses the men in her life left and right. In my opinion, her beauty is truly skin deep. She is unwilling to work hard, she is dishonest, she is lazy and she is selfish. Yes, I get that she is beautiful. And yes, I know that men will throw themselves at beautiful women and fall in love with them without every really knowing them and I was waiting for that inner ugliness of hers to somehow be part of the books message, but it isn't really. Larry Bloom writes about it with awe in his novel, not disgust. Her behavior is a turn on to him.

The other things I struggled with is the treatment of women in general in this book. They are all objects -- some beautiful, some ugly, but none with any intelligence or anything more to offer to the world. All the geniuses (good or evil), all the creatives are all men. Women are either a source of worship or disdain. That means that's how Larry Bloom sees women and that makes him not likable either.

Sigh. This was just not for me, but I suspect others will enjoy it more.
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LibraryThing member slavenrm
As usual I received this book free of charge; specifically, through the grace of a LibraryThing monthly giveaway. Despite that kind and frequent consideration, I give my candid opinions below.

"Biology" is an enigmatic little tale of an ugly and unfortunate man. The chapters alternate between the
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narrative of his real life and chapters from the book he's written, named somewhat concentrically, "The Biology of Luck." His real life is a rather frustrated tale of a man looking for love while book he's written is a highly optimized and optimistic view on the same events.

On the positive side, this book is highly surreal and captures the dichotomy between our real lives and what we would wish them to be. Our main character builds up his book-within-a-book around the life of his prospective lover and an unlikely series of events that it is hoped will bring her ultimately to his arms for good and all. Other reviewers have called this book "funny" but personally I didn't find it funny at all but rather dark and far too easy to relate to. The protagonist is a sad little man who makes one big wish and releases it into the world in book form.

To the negative, I would only warn readers that this is not a typical happy go lucky romance novel. This is very deep, patient and thought provoking work and those looking for fluffy romance or a grand payoff at the end will be disappointed. Read this book when you want to spend a day in contemplation, not for an afternoon by the side of the pool. For some this will be a warning and others a recommendation. I leave it to you to decide which category you fall into.

In summary, this novel is a highly literary and complex tale of love, lust and human desire. It also has a lot to tell us about how we perceive others and exhibits the great talent of the human mind for taking tiny shreds of information about people and weaving them into exorbitant narratives that generally have no relationship whatsoever to reality. Just the sort of book you could read three times and get more and more and more from it on each reading.
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LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
I won this book through Early Reviews and when I read the blurb about it, I was excited when I won it. But, after struggling to read this book, I fear I can only give it two stars. I found the storyline just to confusing and I really did not care about any of the characters. Far to wordy of a novel
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for me. I plugged away to finish it because I thought perhaps something would change. However, I fear I was wrong. Sorry to say, this book was just far to boring for me.
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LibraryThing member TanyaTomato
No use in finishing it to see what happens. Some guys take on what it's like to be a woman.
LibraryThing member msbaba
“The Biology of Luck,” by Jacob M. Appel, is a captivating postmodern tragicomic love story structured as a novel within a novel. It’s about writing and writers, and in particular, about the power of writing to create and sustain hope, happiness, and fulfillment. The tale is nicely balanced
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with equal parts of humor and pathos.

From the very first pages, the story pulled me in and kept me charmed and engaged until the end, some five hours later. Time disappeared and I felt like I’d taken a fast-paced journey through an odd, zany, unexpected tale. When I got to the ending, it threw me off guard. But soon, I realized that the ending was exactly where the entire arc of the story was headed. It was really the perfect ending to an endearing and bittersweet story.

As there should be with any literary novel, there was much more to this work than the pleasure figuring out what happens to the characters. The prose was fresh and animated; it dazzled and entertained. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and work went into the writing. In particular, I loved that underneath the entire exuberant arc of the story, there was a seductive pulsating refrain of adoration for New York City. In fact, this novel consciously celebrated the City’s vibrant history, its immeasurable energy, and countless stranger-than-real-life inhabitants.

The story takes place within a single day. It is the day that short, unattractive, budding-author Larry Bloom imagines that his long-time friend, drop-dead gorgeous Starshine Hart, will suddenly see the light, realize what’s she’s been missing, and fall in love with him. For two years, Larry has been Starshine’s confidant and platonic best guy-buddy. She feels safe with him. He’s a good listener and she always has a ton of problems about guys that she needs to offload on him. For Starshine, being a stunning beauty is an everyday curse. Larry helps her deal with it.

And what type of guy is Larry? He’s the type of man who stumbled into his thirties “unloved and unscrewed.” He makes a living as a New York City tour guide but spends his free time writing. After two years of listening, he knows everything about Starshine. He can easily write her whole life’s history. He is also hopelessly in love with her. Soon after he met her, he devised a crazed scheme to snare her heart. Ever since then, he’s been meticulously carrying through on that plan, day-by-day in secret. His plan has been to write the great American novel with Starshine Hart’s life at the center. The book is Larry’s fantasy of Starshine’s life on the day she sees the truth about him and finally falls in love with him. He is sure that if his book is accepted for publication and he tells her about it, she will fall in love with him. Why? Well, wouldn’t any woman fall in love with the guy who gave her the gift of fame and immortality?

When the book opens, his plan is completed, the book is done, the letter from the publisher has arrived…he’s made special dinner reservations for the two of them.

The “Biology of Luck, “ by Jacob M. Appel, contains the novel “The Biology of Luck” by Larry Bloom. That fictional book is interspersed alternately with chapters telling about what actually happens to Larry Bloom on the day he has the date with Starshine Hart to deliver the news about his novel and to let Starshine open up the fateful letter from the publisher letting them both know whether or not the novel has been accepted for publication. Does his novel get accepted? Does his plan work? Does Starship fall in love with the man who wants to make her famous?

And how about luck? Where does the biology of luck enter into the picture? I’ll let you figure that one out by yourself. It’s not hard. There seems to be an uncommon amount of correlation, luck, and coincidence happening between the alternating real and fictional chapters. Does that mean Larry’s luck will spill over into the reality at the end? Does that mean that Larry’s cockamamie plan will work as he imagines?

In a nutshell, this novel is an entertaining and delightful work of literary craftsmanship and a superb romantic comedy. It is also a hymn to the power of prose to create happiness, and a love song to New York City.

It was easy to give this novel five stars and naturally, I recommend it highly.

[And by the way, what about that name Starshine? The character Starshine always thought her name came from the lyrics to the song in the musical “Hair.” But, the character and the readers find out in Larry’s book, that she was actually named after the notorious mistress of Mussolini, Caretta Petacci. It seems that stunning Italian beauty was code-named Starshine. It is a lot of quirky stuff like this that makes this book so irresistible and charming.]
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
I began this book with high hopes after discovering that Jacob M. Appel is a Kurt Vonnegut Prize winner, that's a good sign right there! Thankfully, I was not let down in my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed this romance of sorts.

Larry Bloom is a New York City tour guide, a normal, unattractive
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humdrum individual, but deep at heart, he is a hopeless romantic. For years he has had the hots for Starshine, a gorgeous twenty-something that has always been precariously out of reach. Today though, Larry's luck will change. It HAS to change, he has spent years imagining this day and writing a novel for her, so everything must go right.

The narrative alternates between Larry's day and what Larry imagines/writes/believes Starshine's day is. It's a unique and exciting way that illustrates the story beautifully. It keeps you guessing as characters begin to weave seamlessly between the two narratives. What is real? What is Larry imagining?

As you can guess, Larry's day is anything but droll, and New York City has never been so full of surprises. Laugh out loud funny, and great for all fiction lovers. A great read.

I received this book for free in return for my honest, unbiased opinion.
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LibraryThing member Azacia
I won a copy of this book on Goodreads in return for an honest review, so although I regret that I did not enjoy this book more, I want my review to be honest as promised.

The Biology of Luck's strengths include a mastery of language well beyond most novels. The descriptors are clear and precise and
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create a very vivid picture for the reader. The story line is also complex and well thought out as the novel juxtaposes the real life of the lead character Larry Bloom with his imaginary story of the woman he loves, Starshine on the day that he announces his love for her.

My biggest difficulty with this novel was the very different life views expressed by the author compared to my own. The characters are pessimistic and the story focuses on the damaged and emphasizes the injustices and the importance of physical beauty and wealth. It takes a prejudiced view of society and focuses on the flaws and on the ugliness. It is also an extremely dense novel to get through.

I think there are readers that may love the artistic and frank views of the characters in the story, but it was not for me.
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LibraryThing member Bricker
I received this book as part of a Firstreads giveaway.

What an amazing book! I was almost late for work twice last week because I couldn't put it down.

One main character is intelligent and confident of his intellectual abilities, but accepting of his physical mediocrity and the other is a young girl
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basing her worth on her aesthetic and nearly empty of a soul. Even the love of Aunt Agatha is more obligation than true feelings.

A wonderful story of hope and longing and the desire to be truly accepted even when you can't totally accept yourself.
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LibraryThing member momweaver
This is a different book than I have ever read before. It is a book within a book. It covers a day in the life of one man. I like the concept, but I didn't find the characters very likable. This made it hard for me to like the book overall. It is interesting, and others will probably enjoy it more
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than I did, but I wasn't rooting for any of the characters, which makes it much less fun.
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LibraryThing member HMJonesWrites
The Biology of Luck by Jacob Appel is an astounding work of prose that paints a picture of the innate self absorption of the human experience. There are two narratives in this book; the first is a narrative of one day in the life of a tour-guide/aspiring author, Larry Bloom. The second narrative is
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a novel within a novel about Bloom's love interest, Starshine Hart. Though the characters are drawn as physically very different, their worlds overlap in more than just details; they are both selfish, insecure, socially anxious and unsure of their romantic futures.
Though the characters would be hard put to point out any similarities they share, it is clear that they are less different, intrinsically, than they might suppose. By the end of the book, it is clear that both the protagonist and his love interest feel that they are at the beck and call of every person in their existence, and that they both simply want to be loved and love without giving, relate without being put out. It is hard to tell, however, if Starshine actually feels this way, as it is Bloom who writes her story. It leaves the reader wondering if Bloom is writing himself into her life in an attempt to reveal them similar, and, thus, meant to be.
Appel is underhandedly hilarious in his choice of minor characters: the creepy “get anything done, at any cost” superintendent, Bone, the luck-mantra philosophizing florist, the eccentric, slightly insane mentor, Ziggy (who understands more than, at first, might seem apparent from his own self-absorption), and, then, there are strange bosses, an ivory carving roommate and a pushy journalist who is comfortable with her sexuality.
The day in a life of a self-labeled “homely” tour-guide may not, at first, seem like an entertaining read. And while Bloom is too worried about his chances for literary success and his first date with Starshine to fully process the adventure that Appel creates for him, readers will not miss it and will be irretrievably drawn in. Starshine's story is just as interesting, and made even more complex as it is supposed to be a fictional creation of the self-effacing Bloom. And while Bloom/Appel show an uncanny understanding of what it is to be a beautiful woman, who has the art of getting what she wants with a smile or a tear, but fears the inevitability of age and, with it, natural deterioration, Bloom still throws himself at a woman who he knows is used to people throwing themselves at her, and who tires of it. Her reaction to Bloom's desperate, though beautiful attempt to connect to Starshine can not be controlled by Bloom, though, and will surprise readers.
As you can see from my slightly manic, rambling review, it is hard to put a finger on one aspect, one character, one story that makes this book a fantastic read. And that's because every character, every short story within a story, creates a story that is full of humanity in some of it's most awkward, awful glory. I you have yet to read The Biology of Luck, you are missing out on what is sure to be hailed as the work of the next great American novelist. Read this book, reread this book, and spread the word. Such an aware, wonderfully written text needs a following.
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LibraryThing member Gwnfkt12
Larry Bloom has written a book about the day he professes his love to Starshine, a day that has finally arrived. So we follow Larry through a day in the life of a New York City tour guide - falling in love with his quirkiness and self-deprecating attitude - all the while reading his conjecture of
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Starshine's day, up until the moment they sit down on their date. And it truly is impossible not to fall in love with these two characters. Larry believes he is normal bordering on ugly and wishes for an ugly-man revolution to change the world. His quirks and flaws, combined with his unfaltering love for Starshine, make him enigmatic but sincere. Meanwhile, we only see Starshine as Larry sees her... which is about as biased a portrayal as there could be. Larry thinks she is perfect, but he believes if she has any flaws that they are what make her wonderfully unique. How could you not fall in love with someone so loved?

But it is not only Larry and Starshine who "shine" in this novel. Every minor character - from the annoying tourists, to the one-armed super, to the Armenian florist, to even the many neighborhoods of NYC are depicted so fully that they seem real (often frustratingly so as they stand in the way of those loveable main characters).

Above all, it is impossible to call this novel anything but realistic. The characters, their problems, the setting, all are based on real people and places. They are so tangible that when you put down the book you feel as though you've just returned from a trip to New York City to visit your friends Larry and Starshine. Is there any higher achievement for an author?
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LibraryThing member grumpydan
Fascinating concept; a novel within a novel. Larry Bloom writes a book about the perfect date with Starshine, which is going to happen shortly. So what we have here is the novel of that dream date within this novel of Larry; ordinary Joe. Although the writing was very good and the details about New
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York City spot in; I was confused by this plot device. One would have to read slowly and not put the book down to get involved. I did not. I didn’t like Larry and couldn’t care less about his date. I wanted to like this story because I liked the concept and the author has a unique writing style. It just wasn’t for me.
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LibraryThing member m.floyd
I was excited to receive a copy of this novel through the Goodreads Giveaway program. As I read, however, something about the novel just grated on me. Maybe it was that the characters were not likeable. I can't say I actually hated Sunshine and Larry Bloom (although they are quite shallow and
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depressing characters), I just found myself indifferent to their fate and to the novel's outcome.

That being said, the novel was wonderfully written with masterful descriptions. Overall, this is a novel that others will certainly enjoy, but one that I did not.
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LibraryThing member ASmithey
Gosh I am so torn about how to rate this book. I loved the writing style, and found the structure of the book refreshing, but I agree with other reviewers who were confused about Starshine's story and how everything seemed to happen the way that Larry dreamed about. Unfortunately, I feel like this
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was a story that could have used a better author. A plot this intricate could have been used well by David Mitchell. All in all I liked the story, it just fell a little shirt for me in it's content.
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LibraryThing member Lainie911
I won this copy from Goodreads first reads. Surprisingly interesting novel. Took me quite by surprise, A novel within a novel. The story enfolds about A day in the life of a tour guide Larry. It's a very detailed story that takes place throughout New York City. Larry writes a book for his dream
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girl, Starshine about her, in hopes to win her over. Lots of interesting characters, just like real life.
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LibraryThing member nubian_princesa
***I received this book through Goodreads First Reads Giveaway***

This is a tough book to review, due to the simple fact that I personally have never read anything like it before. I'l begin my critique with what I perceived as the negative attributes of this book and then explain why I gave 4
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The author made sure that the book was chucked full of ten dollar words, when a fifty cent word would have sufficed.In addition,since the book was mostly centered around a day in the life of the main characters, too much world building went into that short amount of time. It felt like too much information about New York, its people, culture etc when a lot less would have done the job.

OK now onto what I loved about the book, the characters were very well written,you can relate to them even if you have nothing in common with them. I enjoyed the highs and the lows, right along with them.
The ending, at first I was like, what?! but then I could not get it out of my mind, so I see now that the ending was just pure genius.

Can't really say its a romance, suspense or what but it was a good read for sure
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LibraryThing member dpappas
I am not quite sure what genre I would put this book in but I do know that I really liked it. This book takes place in one day, the day that Larry Bloom finally has a date with the woman that he is in love with, Starshine Hart. He is so in love with her that he has managed to write a book about her
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life on the day that he finally tells her how he feels. The book alternates between chapters from Larry's book and the events that actually happen to Larry on that day.

I was really intrigued by the fact that this book contained chapters from Larry's novel. I have never read a book like that before and it really made this book seem unique. If you really think about it, all throughout the book you are seeing Starshine completely from Larry's point-of-view. You either see his opinion of her from the real life chapters or how he thinks her life is like from the book that he has written. Even though the chapters from Larry's book are from Starshine's point-of-view it was still written by Larry. She has told him about her life before so I don't doubt that he manages to interpret her somewhat correctly in his book.

When I first started this book I wasn't really a fan of Larry or Starshine but the more I read the more complex they both became and the more I grew to like them. They both seemed so life-like and both had fears or obsessions that seemed to drive them. Larry seemed obsessed by the fact that he is unattractive and Starshine wanted people to notice her and feared that one day they just might not notice her anymore. The secondary characters seemed to shine just as much as Larry and Starshine did.

I really enjoyed the humor in this book and loved how all the characters seemed to be connected. I have to say that I didn't love the ending of this (I didn't hate it either). I understand that it was left up to the interpretation of the reader but I was cheering for Larry and really wanted some good to happen to him and that wasn't the strong ending that I wanted for him. Overall this is a unique book with strong characters and I would definitely recommend it.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
I really wanted to like these off beat characters, but the logical person in my head was like "of course you can't pay rent! You don't wear shoes to your job...what are you thinking?" I hate when the good guy likes the bad girl who won't pay any attention to him. too much like real life maybe? :)
LibraryThing member MaureenCean
This is really more of 3.5 as the story isn't something I would necessarily be that into, but there is much to admire. It was a win on First Reads. The title is way cool just on its own. The placement of a story within the story was an interesting technique. I have to say that the first paragraph
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of the novel may well be the best and most interesting opening I have ever read, and it was repeated in some but not all of the final paragraph (not counting the last words spoken by Starshine). Appel's vocabulary is impressive, I wish I had known at the beginning to start marking the words that I either did not know or I had to infer the meaning of from the context, it would have been fun. It turns out he is accomplished in other fields in addition to being an author, and I think I would love to have lunch with him! This is definitely a literary work, but as modern as they come. I was a little disappointed that the end could not be more clear, but I'm getting over it. I really got a kick out of the way the coincidences became closer and tighter at the novel neared it's climax, and the lines between the works by Bloom and Appel became a little blurry. It reminded me of somethings swirling down a drain, like ball bearings maybe, starting out separately, but moving ever faster and colliding with one another as they neared the end. This is a book worth reading, give it a try.
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LibraryThing member mandersj73
I really wanted to love this book that I won on a Goodreads contest. And I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would after the initial several chapters, but I can't say I ever loved the book. When I sit down to read a book for pleasure I really don't want to have to use a thesaurus as an
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aid. I'm an educated person who works as a professional copywriter, and I struggled to understand and enjoy some of the writing in this book. Somewhat pretentious and overly flowery, the writing almost turned me off from the book. However I wanted to see where the storyline went. I found it interesting that the story alternates between a day in the life of the main character who is plodding through his workday until he can enjoy a first date with the woman of his dreams later that evening, with chapters of a novel the main character is writing about the life of the woman of his dreams as he imagines it to be. Set in New York City, the city plays a big part of the novel as the main character is an NYC tour guide, and that is a nice bonus for someone who has never been to NYC but would love to go. All in all, the story has a good build-up to an event that never really ends up playing out in the book, but that's probably the point. I wish the author would tone down the mega-vocabulary a bit to make it flow more easily for the reader, but that's personal taste on my part.
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LibraryThing member dulcinea14
Soooo pleasantly surprised by this novel. For starters, it's extremely well-written. Mr. Appel has a great knack for language and there are some quite eloquent passages in the novel that really impressed me. Waxing poetic about New York is nothing new, but he manages to shine a light on the city
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without it feeling like the tired-old descriptions of NYC I see time and time again. When a city feels like a character in a novel, I'm impressed. The human characters are engaging and colorful, but completely 3-dimensional. The narrative is unique, a novel within a novel, with cross-over and crossed paths, all in a single day. I'm a sucker for a clever approach to narrative.

My advice to readers, don't think too much about how he could write about events in the past occurring in his present. It doesn't matter. Just go with it and appreciate how the two stories weave together little by little. The book may be a little too post-modern for the casual reader, but for those who love a book that challenges common literary conventions like myself, I think it's genius.

I received a copy from Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for my review.
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LibraryThing member sdmtngirl
It took me a long time to get around to reading this all the way through. As often as I'd pick it up I'd put it down as I just couldn't get into it. The writing was wonderful; loved the style, but did not care for the characterizations. Starshine was too confusing and it was too frustrating to be
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endured. Liked the concept but not the story.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
This was a flowing, anti-novel, and artistic work that really surprised me with its depth and poetic flavour. Appel does so much here in creating the environment, as real as he can, in your mind to take you on a virtual tour of New York City. In addition to this, his characters poke out of the page
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and seem multilayered, sophisticated, and complex. It is a great novel and one that anyone interested in modern American literature or a good read should enjoy.

4.25 stars!
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LibraryThing member crsini
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. Much appreciation to those that made it happen!

I think that the primary coup de mâitre of this story manifests in its ability to make you read with a new lens, one in which the medium is as important as the message. This is a story centered on its
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supporting cast as much as on the leads. Appel seamlessly weaves together two narratives into a tapestry both intricate and methodical.

The only flaws were corollaries of the unique style of writing. Starshine, one of the characters in the limelight, is only described through Larry's vantage point, which leaves one wondering just how much of her narrative was reasonable and how much to discard as the speculative products of concupiscence.

Overall, this was a pleasant read with a unique slant on perspective.
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LibraryThing member Icepacklady
I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway. When I realized that the author and the main character were both New York City tour guides I grew a little skeptical and let the book sit on my shelf for too long. Once I picked it up I had trouble putting it down.

Other reviewers have already sung the
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book's praises and I won't try to repeat them all. There were a few typos but not enough to be a distraction. Personally I would have preferred a less open ended finish but I see other readers enjoyed it. I was confused by the fact that Starshine's storyline was all "the book within the book". I kept thinking it was really happening in real time. Then near the ending when Larry's life starts intersecting with the characters from his fictionalized version of things.... it gets really confusing. I mean it's cool and all but it's also very messed up. Maybe too much. I think Jacob was trying to do too much here. It was enjoyable and all, but it's a lot to swallow all the what's "real" and what's in "the book within a book" but as long as I didn't try to think too much it was fine.

I have also read Jacob M. Appel's "Phoning Home: Essays" and I will say that I enjoyed "The Biology of Luck" a lot more!

I've put his "Wedding Wipeout" on my "to read" list and I know there are still giveaways for that one. Will be interesting to see how it compares to these 2 titles that I have already read.

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