Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: "Lucky Bastard" by S.G. Browne

As the world gets more stressful my taste in reading turns to the irreverent. As the political season ramps up and the talking-heads becoming increasingly shrill I tuck my head back into my turtle-shell and look for some blessed relief from all the noise. There have always been a few trusty authors I've turned to when looking for the right kind of off-kilter humor to distract me when I've hit my tolerance level for negativity- and S.G. Browne is a welcome addition to the list.

Lucky Bastard, Browne's latest offering, is the story of Nick Monday: a private investigator who really makes his living as a luck poacher. The ability to poach luck is passed from one generation to the next; both Nick and his sister Mandy are able to poach luck- but Nick is the only one to take advantage of his parasitic ability. Because of his strange vocation Nick drifts along the margins of society, only interacting with the occasional coffee barista and his gangsta-rapping assistant Bow Wow for companionship.

Nick's own luck used to be pretty good too, but an uncharacteristic decision to take a job poaching bad luck was all it took for Nick to end up in a tiny office in San Francisco taking actual investigating jobs just to have enough money to pay rent and buy cinnamon rolls at the local Starbucks. So when Tuesday Knight, the gorgeous daughter of the mayor, shows up in his office to offer him $100,000 if he can retrieve her father's stolen luck, Nick's in no position to refuse, even though he was the guy who poached it in the first place.

But Nick's turn of bad luck seems to be lingering as more and more people seem interested in his particular talents- and the constant kidnappings are making it awfully hard to get anything done...

S.G. Browne is often compared to Christopher Moore, and they do a share a goofy sense of humor that pokes fun at sacred cows with a lightheartedness that is infectious and addicting. What I particularly like about Browne's style is his gentle way of probing larger issues without adopting a preachy tone. "Lucky Bastard" doesn't lend itself to heavy-duty philosophy, but taking other people's good fortune does bring up some ethical dilemmas. Nick's way of dealing with that issue is to deflect with lots of sarcasm and mocha lattes.

"Lucky Bastard" is a busy book that somehow manages to keep all the threads of the story under control. Nick gets kidnapped on a regular basis- often many times in one day. Everyone involved in San Francisco's criminal underworld, from a luck-obsessed Chinese crime boss to a guy who looks a lot like Barry Manalow, has an interest in Nick's talents. It's amazing that a book with such a frenetic pace doesn't get frazzled by its own energy, but it works.

Nick is the only character that is developed with any detail and we live inside his head for the whole ride. His view of the world is heavily influenced by pop-culture and and a need for junk food to fuel his ability to metabolize the poached luck he carries in his system (a process that also requires a catheter). Nick breezily rationalizes his choice to poach luck for a living as he casually hands off bottles of luck to the homeless who camp on the stoop of his apartment building. But when his sister Mandy is dragged into the situation, as leverage to use against Nick, he's forced to think about how his actions affect other people.

"Lucky Bastard" is a light, fun diversion. It touches, occasionally, on the larger implications of what Nick does- which is to literally sponge off of the good fortune of others. But it isn't until he meets a bad-luck poacher, and sees his strange, though occasional, altruism, before Nick can really confront his own shortcomings. And it was at that point that I felt the book finally found the moral underpinning it needed to give the story some depth- unfortunately that didn't happen until the end of the story. Fortunately, the book left off in an open-ended fashion that may lend itself to a sequel and the chance to see how Nick evolves. Overall I liked "Lucky Bastard" for its sense of fun and attitude. Nick Monday is the kind of character you can easily spend some time with and feel lighter for it. I might have wished for a little more introspection but it isn't really necessary in a book that exists to entertain and provide a few laughs- and "Lucky Bastard" does that extremely well.

4 out of 5 stars


Maurice Mitchell said...

SQT, what a great idea. It sounds like a fun and interesting novel.

Book Chick City said...

This sounds great. I have it to read and I'm really looking forward to it, especially after Fated which I thought was fab. Have you read it? If not I definitely recommend.

SQT said...

I really liked "Fated." Maybe a tiny bit more than "Lucky Bastard"- though they're both a lot of fun.

animewookie said...

Wow! That is interesting, thanks for the heads up :D

Charles Gramlich said...

I like an irreverant book now and then, although I need gaps between them. It has been a while since I read one, though.