A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

A razor-sharp, deeply felt new novel about the complicated relationship between a charismatic teacher and his students, and the secrets we keep from those we loveAs a member of the Honor Society at Bailey Academy, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country, Ben falls under the tutelage of Pierre LaVerdere, a brilliant, enigmatic teacher who instructs...

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Title:A Wonderful Stroke of Luck
Author:Ann Beattie
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A Wonderful Stroke of Luck Reviews

  • Mary

    I’ve been a bit exasperated with the currently fashionable critical focus on “stakes” in books, because it seems to put the focus on plot at the expense of beautiful writing. And then I read A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie, and all of a sudden, I get it. Because there really is some beautiful writing here, as when Beattie compares a character to “cigarette ash, her grudges tiny, glowing embers waiting to flare” or describes a handshake as “a firm grip with soft skin, like a pillow-top

    I’ve been a bit exasperated with the currently fashionable critical focus on “stakes” in books, because it seems to put the focus on plot at the expense of beautiful writing. And then I read A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie, and all of a sudden, I get it. Because there really is some beautiful writing here, as when Beattie compares a character to “cigarette ash, her grudges tiny, glowing embers waiting to flare” or describes a handshake as “a firm grip with soft skin, like a pillow-top bed at an expensive hotel.” But there are no stakes here at all: the book’s campus novel opening—which introduces several students in a boarding school honors club moderated by the supposedly charismatic Pierre LaVerdere, a teacher who his students almost worship, even though nothing about Beattie’s characterization of him merits this—feels at odds with the rest of the book, which morphs into a coming-of-age story about one of these students, Ben, who is a self-described “withholding” person and therefore perhaps not the best choice for a protagonist.

    It doesn’t help that many of the major emotional events in the book—deaths, a suicide, etc—happen offstage, with the reader finding out about them well after the fact from an offhand comment by one or another character and therefore having no real connection to them. Or that the characters themselves are generally unlikable and unmemorable and, even more problematically, cycle in and out of the book irregularly and somewhat distractingly. (Jasper, we hardly knew ye!) The one constant is Ben, but his meanderings through multiple dead end jobs and relationships are more frustrating than compelling. (And why does Ben suddenly hold a grudge against LaVerdere—not that I blame him!—after being so besotted with him in high school—and well before some plot points involving other characters later in the book give him some legitimate reasons to find him repugnant?) LaVerdere himself makes a late reappearance for no discernible reason and is no less a cipher at the book’s closing than he was at the start.

    I’ve not read any Ann Beattie before and was really excited to start this book, as I’ve heard such good things about her, so I’m going to assume that A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is just an uncharacteristic miss. I do appreciate receiving an ARC from NetGalley and Viking in exchange for my honest review. (2.5 stars)

  • Melissa Dee

    Ann Beattie’s novel is told from the perspective of a young man, beginning with his adolescence in a north-eastern boarding school for troubled kids, and continuing until he is in his mid-thirties, living in suburban upstate New York. While it feels risky for a woman in her 70’s to write from this perspective, it felt largely authentic and I was interested in Ben, his friendships, his relationships with women, and his career.

    I have to say that I’m baffled by the ending. I turned back

    Ann Beattie’s novel is told from the perspective of a young man, beginning with his adolescence in a north-eastern boarding school for troubled kids, and continuing until he is in his mid-thirties, living in suburban upstate New York. While it feels risky for a woman in her 70’s to write from this perspective, it felt largely authentic and I was interested in Ben, his friendships, his relationships with women, and his career.

    I have to say that I’m baffled by the ending. I turned back the pages of the ebook several times, trying to determine if something had been inadvertently deleted.

    I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

  • Sarah

    The first 50 pages of this are just wonderful. I love the hothouse of high school: how everyone is struggling and striving and trying to connect and failing. LaVerdere was suitably awful/compelling, and Ben was just so dumb in the way of all high school boys. But then Ben leaves high school and continues to be struggling and striving and trying to connect and failing and he just never gets out of that. But also the novel never evolves past it either to complicate it or even make it interesting.

  • Kimber

    Beattie, in the New Yorker stories, has a remarkable record of basically recording our society from the point of view of her generation. In A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, she deviates and chronicles the generation coming of age during 9/11. Perhaps this was the wrong premise. The first 50 pages really flows, her use of language the driving force. But not able to feel for the characters, or engage with the plotline it just became a mostly miserable read for me. I enjoyed the occasional poetic moment

    Beattie, in the New Yorker stories, has a remarkable record of basically recording our society from the point of view of her generation. In A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, she deviates and chronicles the generation coming of age during 9/11. Perhaps this was the wrong premise. The first 50 pages really flows, her use of language the driving force. But not able to feel for the characters, or engage with the plotline it just became a mostly miserable read for me. I enjoyed the occasional poetic moments, and glimmer of her amazing insight that shows up on the page. I just can't say that I liked it as a whole.

  • Bill Kupersmith

    A principal character is Pierre LaVerdere, a “charismatic” school-master and ironist. His take on Thomas Hicks The Peaceable Kingdom: “…let me suggest that while certain writers and musicians are approved of because they have a so-called vision that they return to, it is also a risky endeavor, because quantity may raise questions rather than reinforcing the impact. Does one’s adamancy convince, or suggest a possible struggle within the artist that becomes part of the art itself—perhaps inseparab

    A principal character is Pierre LaVerdere, a “charismatic” school-master and ironist. His take on Thomas Hicks The Peaceable Kingdom: “…let me suggest that while certain writers and musicians are approved of because they have a so-called vision that they return to, it is also a risky endeavor, because quantity may raise questions rather than reinforcing the impact. Does one’s adamancy convince, or suggest a possible struggle within the artist that becomes part of the art itself—perhaps inseparable from it? Something we are no doubt still thinking about, following our trip to a so-called real art gallery last year, under the supervision of Ms. Alwyn-Black [the art mistress], as I’m sure all of you will remember: another highlight of your broad—I imply no pun here—education at Bailey Academy.”

    A superb American rendition of what Samuel Butler labeled “the Hypothetical Language” as spoken at “The Universities of Unreason,” which tantalizingly refuses to affirm or deny anything while proclaiming the speaker’s intellectual superiority. It actually demonstrates what most of us at school already wondered: If he’s so bright, why’s he forty and still in prep school? In the words of Ben Cabot, our main character, Bailey Academy “was for bright, screwed-up kids.” Good schools have a list of the likely destinations for classmates who will not be invited back at the end of term. Ours included several “academies.” Masters like LaVerdere weren’t absolute twats in the old days (like when Holden Caulfield was in school); then it was assumed preppies came from families that had got their political values from the National Association of Manufacturers and admired Senator Robert Taft. Today of course families of the wealthy and privileged profess unimpeachably correct progressive values and scarcely need anyone to teach their children to question traditional beliefs: How do you supposed they became “screwed up kids”?

    The book opens at the time of “9/11” (what would Americans be if they didn’t put the months and days in the wrong order and in emergencies couldn’t call 999 like everybody else? We’d say “eleven September” instead.) At the end Ben has graduated from Cornell (where he “learned to code” but apparently nothing else), is living in a house up the Hudson River (bought with money inherited from his dead father—he also inherited a silly looking beret that acts as a minor motif). He had had a long string of sexual encounters but no relationships except with his old schoolfriend LouLou; they briefly ran away from school so she could follow a singer, got ditched at a service station. No bother—LouLou phoned one of the school servants to pick them up. Later LouLou becomes a lesbian and offers both LaVerdere and Ben the opportunity to donate sperm to her family with Dale. LaVerdere puts them off by offering to father the baby the old-fashioned way instead. LouLou and Dale break up and at the end Ben is driving her to a reception at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. (I kept wondering about parking.)

    LaVerdere actually isn’t well educated. Ben says to him

    “Maybe like you I should have stayed in New York, but I lack courage.”

    “I hope not. It’s an hamartia.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “A fatal flaw. Don’t you remember our discussions of Shakespeare?”

    Of course hamartia doesn’t mean “fatal flaw”; that was Butcher’s misinterpretation of Aristotle. It means a “mistake” or a “crime” and in Jewish or Christian Greek a “sin”; a main job for us university professors was correcting errors our students had picked up from clever teachers in secondary school.

    I’d been reading Ms. Beattie off-and-on (mostly off) since the ’70s and bought this one on a whim to see how she would do with a school story. It’s like The Secret History with the stoners as the only characters—no one trying to live like Euripides Bacchae: more like the Lotos Eaters. Indeed, LaVerdere soon retires to Key West and fails as a novelist. Though the book goes nowhere, we get lots of Ms. Beattie’s ADD prose. The parenthesis is one of her favorite tropes: she can’t finish a sentence without changing the subject. Ben’s sister Brenda is frightened by a squirrel in the park. “‘Fucking filth!’ His sister exclaimed, jumping up and brushing her jeans, as if the rodent’s hair had been instantly ejected, like porcupine quills. (Ben silently corrected himself: The porcupine has no way to send its quills out of its body; it is the animal’s flapping its tail that embeds the quills.)”

    You’ll learn other out-of-the way-facts as well from this book. Make sure you’re up on your late night television chat show hosts and know the difference between A. E. Housman and John Houseman too.

  • Andy Miller

    Ann Beattie has been a favorite author for many years, one reason being that her characters have been as authentic as they are interesting. The reader could relate to Beattie's characters because they related to real life experiences. This was re-enforced by her collection of stories published in the New Yorker over the years; Beattie's characters aged as Beattie did confronting evolving life situations.

    Which explains why " A Wonderful Stroke of Luck was unsatisfying. The heart of the nove

    Ann Beattie has been a favorite author for many years, one reason being that her characters have been as authentic as they are interesting. The reader could relate to Beattie's characters because they related to real life experiences. This was re-enforced by her collection of stories published in the New Yorker over the years; Beattie's characters aged as Beattie did confronting evolving life situations.

    Which explains why " A Wonderful Stroke of Luck was unsatisfying. The heart of the novel is the protagonist's years in a private high school with a close set of friends and a charismatic teacher which is wracked by 9/11 while they are at their private boarding school.

    While the novel continues with the protagonist's life for the next 15 years, his high school friends, and teacher, make repeated entrances into his life. The main thing is that I didn't find the characters particularly interesting or believable. It was as if a 70 someting author was trying and failing to relate to a younger generation's experiences with a world changed by 9/11 occurring in the formative years of high school

  • Susan

    I have no quarrel with the novel's writing and the language, but found the subject, plot and characters disappointing. The story begins at Bailey, a school for so-called troubled children. Ben lands there by accident, though, as he discovers late in the novel - a result of his father's anger and troubles rather than his own. The school's atmosphere, the arrogance and insecurity of many staff members, only add to the entitlement, self-absorption and identity issues of these students. They seem al

    I have no quarrel with the novel's writing and the language, but found the subject, plot and characters disappointing. The story begins at Bailey, a school for so-called troubled children. Ben lands there by accident, though, as he discovers late in the novel - a result of his father's anger and troubles rather than his own. The school's atmosphere, the arrogance and insecurity of many staff members, only add to the entitlement, self-absorption and identity issues of these students. They seem alienated, at a loss, jaded, incapable of forming real relationships. When they meet later in life, they do not recognize or really care about one another. Still, all that matters for Ben is the past as he goes through life with dry humor, rigid phrases and endless worries about what others are thinking. Of course, Beattie refers to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" at one point, and there are hints of Holden Caulfield, too. But Ben does not run away from school and instead wallows in his memories of routines, emotions and responses to key events. He cannot let go. Much of the book is set in the post-Bailey years and he goes on to attend Cornell and enjoy a comfortable, easy life as a programmer, living in the Hudson Valley region. Yet he is miserable. So this reader is left confused about just what was

    ? Certainly not his family, the school, his relationships and friendships. The book is as aimless at its protagonist.

  • Robin Moore

    This book was difficult to read; it did not have my interest. There were times when I thought about discontinuing reading it. Beattie introduces us to a group of students that met at a boarding school in NH (Bailey Academy). She tosses in an influential teacher that's also in charge of the honor society (Mr. LaVerdere) but how, and to what extent, these students have been influenced is not heavily developed. Beattie's characters from the boarding school are not developed either; they are also un

    This book was difficult to read; it did not have my interest. There were times when I thought about discontinuing reading it. Beattie introduces us to a group of students that met at a boarding school in NH (Bailey Academy). She tosses in an influential teacher that's also in charge of the honor society (Mr. LaVerdere) but how, and to what extent, these students have been influenced is not heavily developed. Beattie's characters from the boarding school are not developed either; they are also unlikable. I did not know very much about them and I did not care about them. Nothing they said or did on campus as students, or later on as adults, contributed to the action or plot development in a significant way. To me, the author has written a boring book.

  • Daniel Kukwa

    The older I get, the less and less I tolerate books I don't enjoy. I made it just beyond 100 pages before giving up. As echoed in many other reviews, the first 50 or so pages are promising, if a little pretentious/too cool for its own good. But after that...well, if I want to hang around with f-ked up people spinning around their sad lives like water going down the drain, I'd find some actual people of that nature to hang out with. Not for me, this one.

  • AnnieBebop

    I don’t know what this was supposed to be. I just couldn’t even bear to even skim to the end. Stopped about mid way through.

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