Particles and Luck by Louis B. Jones

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Particles and Luck

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At the tender age of twenty-seven, Mark Perdue has beenappointed to a prestigious professorship at the Berkeley campus ofthe University of California.He is fortunate in being married to awoman who is not only beautiful but also intelligent. AudreyPerdue has to do a lot of her husband’s practical thinking for him,since his mind is hopelessly preoccupied with the most advanced andcontroversial speculations about the nature of matter.

When Audrey, a patent lawyer, leaves town to attend aconference, Mark is drawn into the orbit of a nearly bankruptpizza-restaurant proprietor named Roger Hoberman, who claims thata big corporation plans to seize parts of their adjacent suburbanproperties under a claim of adverse possession. This odd couplestays up all night getting drunk and preparing to defend their backyards against a nebulous assault by agents of the hostilecorporation.

Mark gets involved in Roger’s complicated domestic problems andeventually comes to the conclusion that human relations are chaoticand inexplicable because the fundamental building blocks ofmatter— the hypothetical bits and pieces that are smallerthan protons and electrons—are themselves chaotic andinexplicable. Human life—and everything else that passesfor “reality”—is a matter of invisible and unknowableentities falling into random patterns: in other words, “particlesand luck.”

Like most second novels, PARTICLES AND LUCK is a step down fromthe author’s first novel. Jones’s ORDINARY MONEY (1990), anotherbook about the zany behavior of suburbanites in Marin County,California, received praise in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW andother leading periodicals. PARTICLES AND LUCK is, however, animpressive performance for such a youthful author. It is full ofwit and humor, and it often surprises with incisive observationsabout human life— though most readers will have difficultyfollowing the hero’s overly long interior monologues about theultimate nature of reality.

Sources for Further Study

American Libraries. XXIV, July, 1993, p.680.

Booklist. LXXXIX, March 1, 1993, p.1156.

Chicago Tribune. June 14, 1993, V, p.3.

Kirkus Reviews. LXI, February 1, 1993, p.84.

Library Journal. CXVIII, November 15, 1993, p.128.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. April 11, 1993, p.3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, April 18, 1993, p.12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, February 8, 1993, p.77.

San Francisco Chronicle. March 28, 1993, p. REV4.

The Washington Post. April 14, 1993, p. B2.

Particles and Luck

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Second novels are notoriously wobbly bridges for young writers to cross. They tend to use up their best material on their first effort, get acclaimed as future Hemingways or Faulkners, and then find that their life experience is too shallow to be mined again so soon. Like the young John Milton, they may sense that they are shattering the leaves of their laurels and myrtles before the mellowing year.

Nevertheless, they are under pressure to produce that second novel. Publishers do not want to deal with “one-shot” authors; they even write contracts specifying that they have the first right of refusal on the next novel and the one after that. There is also pressure from relatives, pressure from friends, and pressure from friendly enemies who invariably ask that awful question: “What are you working on now?” There is the pressure of bills piling up on the kitchen counter, a condition with which characters in both of Jones’s novels appear all too familiar. There is also considerable internal pressure to prove to themselves that they are capable of surviving in an occupation of which John Steinbeck said in his acceptance speech for the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature: “The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

Louis B. Jones’s Ordinary Money (1990) met with as much critical acclaim as anyone had a right to expect for a first novel. The New York Times Book Review called it “an uproariously satirical book, the product of an opulent imagination.” Ordinary...

(The entire section is 2,245 words.)