Gimlet-eyed Beattie has created a stunningly unnerving and provocative tale spiked with keen cultural allusions and drollery. This jarring dissection of privilege and anxiety, gender expectations, lust, ludicrous predicaments, defensive selfishness, moral confusion, and numbing loneliness projects a matrix of angst somewhat countered by the solace and sustenance found in a quiet life far from the grasping, hurried, hostile world.
It’s somewhat difficult to relate what happens in A Wonderful Stroke of Luck. This isn’t surprising: Beattie has never been a plot-driven writer. In her best earlier work, that isn’t a problem. But in this novel, I found myself wishing for an index of characters so I could see who was who, to figure out what mattered and why. Ultimately this is a novel in which nothing seems to matter much. It’s so discursive and shapeless that I found it impossible to glean what story Beattie was trying to tell and why a reader should care ... There’s also a troublingly blinkered aspect to the world Beattie has created, as regards race, age, gender, technology — really, as regards the modern world ... a seeming carelessness throughout... extends to a reliance on clubby shorthand that speaks only to certain people (literary-minded baby boomers) instead of creating a compelling narrative peopled with diverse, vivid and interesting characters ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck does contain some elegant sentences and cutting observations that remind a reader of Beattie at her strongest and provide some moments of pleasure. But when I was done with this novel, I sought out and read two of her best short stories of the 1970s ... One hopes that as Beattie continues down the final stretch of road of her life as a fiction writer, she finds her way back to the perceptiveness and skill she has shown so abundantly in the past.
Beattie's skepticism is on full display in the novel; unfortunately, the excellent writing and arch sense of humor that made her previous books so great are not ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is a profoundly maddening novel for several reasons, one of which is Beattie's evident unalloyed dislike of every character in the book. That's not to say a novel's characters have to be likable, but they do have to have some traits besides their unlikability. Beattie not only seems to regard her characters with contempt, it seems that she would very much like to punch them all in the face. She also doesn't quite have her finger on the pulse of the millennials she writes about ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is a charmless and rambling gesture at a novel from an author who's capable of so much better.
Despite the compression of time and plot into an episodic, this-happens,-then-that-happens chronicle, and the challenge of tracking so many characters, Beattie’s particular and eccentric rhythm offers plenty of pleasure. Every sentence shines with wit, originality, and sharp observations ... Will every reader love this novel? Maybe not, but — hey — it’s Ann Beattie so cause enough for celebration.
A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is, weirdly enough, [Beattie's] Millennial novel, unapologetically and explicitly so ... Instead of plot, it has an entropic deflation of events: things threaten to happen but never quite do, cooling weakly into fragmented memories. Take Sentimental Education and eliminate 1848; take and eliminate fascism ...The novel has the mesmeric quality of remembering late youth, its chaos and loose ends, the sweet taste of being free to make bad decisions, the astringency of their potential consequences ... There is no general artistic obligation to be up to date, yet Beattie’s art always thrived on its disenchanted kind of currency. In A Wonderful Stroke however, the entire tonality of the novel seems anachronistic in relation to its material. It is on the one hand too insistent on alienation ... But on the other hand, there is another of Beattie’s familiar tones, which gives the anomie its gentleness: a sense that if the world is static, it is at least durably so ... Disaster doesn’t threaten so much as slow soft decline. That has always been Beattie’s note: the sheer reliability of the world’s ordinariness, alternately disheartening and comforting, so resistant to melodrama. She does it justice better than almost anyone else in her generation; it’s at the core of her realism. But a later generation likely will find it hard to credit. What if, instead, absolutely everything feels unstable, rickety, in a terminal state of emergency? What if decline and its moods no longer suit?
Ms. Beattie captures the exhilarating feeling of being young and gifted and specially selected for stardom, but the bulk of her novel is about the long anticlimax that is real life ... This is Ms. Beattie’s first novel since 2002, but readers of her short stories will be fully at home with its discursive style ... the scenes in A Wonderful Stroke of Luck are punctuated by freak accidents and amusing non sequiturs ... There’s humor throughout this novel, but you can’t always tell whether you’re laughing at Ben or with him.
... Beattie’s writing with its clever rhythm of observation, reflection and speculation that disorients us even as it seems to be moving us forward. Thus, sometimes feeling as aimless as Ben himself, as he goes from Bailey to Cornell to various jobs and liaisons and girlfriends, A Wonderful Stroke of Luck puts us in its well-meaning but hapless protagonist’s position — moving ahead, not necessarily getting anywhere, but graced along the way with moments that occasionally confer their own meaning.
If books were people, Ann Beattie's A Wonderful Stroke of Luck... would be a friend that has dazzled you for years with her sharp observations and dry wit — so you try hard to find something to enjoy in this shapeless story she now seems set on telling ... There is not a shred of dramatic tension, despite guest appearances by 9/11 and AIDS, and Beattie just doesn't get her young millennials right ... It seems certain that Beattie could write a better book if she focused on her own cohort, the people she spent most of her career observing. She knew exactly what she was talking about it, and she said it in a way we had not heard before. I would love to hear what she thinks of us now.
The result is a book that reads like a years-long montage, skittering from moment to moment and only ever lingering on a given scene long enough for a fleeting impression. Beattie’s prose is characteristically limpid, smooth and clear enough to keep a reader hurtling along without issue — but the plot is opaque, because Beattie keeps veering around vital information. If you want to figure out what’s happening in this book, you have to look at what’s not being said ... This is a book in which all the meat has been carved away, and we are left with only the bones ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is an intellectually rich book with a razor-sharp sense of irony. But it’s also a cold book ... Still, this cold book is mesmerizingly elegant. It may not leave you feeling much, but it is always beautiful to read.
... might be too smart for its own good ... [Beattie] knows we can meander through some of her short stories and trust that she'll bring us to a crescendo, but novels are a wholly different landscape, and she doesn't earn our trust as early on in the story as she should ... even a great short story writer like Ann Beattie cannot effectively balance maintaining and sustaining our interest in what's happening with a character who isn't going anywhere ... There's a reason Beattie set this story in the 9/11 era, but she fails the reader by not following through on such observations ... Beattie assuredly and intelligently drops an endless supply of cultural references throughout this novel, but she doesn't back them up with anything within the story itself ... the ending disappoints ... This is an intellectually rich book, but Beattie's clinical distance seems as much a reflection of her inability to fully capture this generation as it is a literary style. It reads like the result of scholarly research rather than primary experience. Emotional connections within or between characters are nowhere to be seen. Alas, if the writer seems uninterested in attempting a connection with the reader, then the effort expended to build an absorbing fictional world proves fruitless.
A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, Ann Beattie’s 21st book, is extremely smart: edgy, infectious, witty, and yet a bit brooding. Some readers will wonder if it is too smart; if, in style and tone, intelligence has conquered feeling in paralyzing ways. It certainly seems to have done so in several of the major characters. They are oddly desperate and oddly blocked ... Beattie’s handling of how these classmates interact, especially how they speak to one another, is remarkable. So is the anonymous narrating voice, who seems, at times, like an invisible overseer of the teenagers’ potentialities and handicaps — like someone who may have graduated from Bailey a decade or so back and can guess what they’re going through ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is a powerful, nuanced study of arrested development, filled with Beattie’s sardonic wit. It is captivating, thought-provoking, and disturbing.
Beattie serves up an unflinchingly bleak—albeit sometimes laugh-out-loud humorous—serving of millennial malaise. It’s almost entirely character-driven, with plot far less important than dialogue, reflecting Beattie’s keen ear for not only what is said but also what is left unsaid, often with tragic consequences.
For a long time, the novel seems as aimless as Ben, but slowly, with her characteristic cool precision, Beattie reveals a man who, for an array of complex reasons linked to Bailey and his childhood, has drawn from life the conclusion that 'everybody leaves everybody' ... Obvious is one thing Beattie never is. Her elegantly sculpted tale is both wrenchingly sad and ultimately enigmatic: as usual.
Discursive, unfocused ... Beattie’s depiction of the aimless and largely unremarkable Ben is overshadowed by the detail lavished on scores of vivid minor characters who pass briefly through his life. LaVerdere, whose interactions with Ben frame the novel, is also unsatisfying: pretentiously cerebral and verbose, he feels implausible as either a defining influence in his students’ lives or the dramatically problematic man who emerges at the novel’s close. As always, Beattie offers sharp psychological insights and well-crafted prose, but the novel lacks the power and emotional depth of her best work.