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The Ultimate Good Luck [Hardcover]

2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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2.7 out of 5 stars
2.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Out of Luck July 8 2004
Format:Paperback
Never has a book involving cocaine smuggling, at least three murders, and Mexican prisons been so boring or unsatisfying. I've read Ford's Frank Bascombe novels and the difference in the writing and subject matter (to use the old cliche) is night and day while there's no difference at all in the lack of passion in the characters, specifically Harry Quinn, the protagonist.
Harry doesn't care if he gets Sonny out, he only cares about getting himself and his wife Rae out of Mexico alive, which may or may not happen, we never even really find that out. Rae doesn't even care about getting her brother out, so both her and Harry are making a half-hearted attempt. This is great, complex stuff, but from a reading standpoint it comes off as cold and clinical, to the point where I never cared if Harry or Rae lived or died. Heck, if one of them died, maybe the other would have had to experience some emotion then.
I'm not saying I want a lot of melodrama, but I do want to feel SOMETHING. I hate putting down a book with a weary sigh and saying, "Yeah, so?" It means the author failed to deliver the goods, although in this case maybe Ford got what he was after, because I felt as cold and detached from everything as Harry.
In terms of the writing, this is nowhere near the caliber of "The Sportswriter" or "Independence Day". The sentences are choppy and filled with a lot of amateurish telling instead of showing and useless adverbs. The characters are all so bland and detached that I never care about them. The action is handled so poorly that in big moments, like the gunfight at the end, I didn't know what was happening. The dialogue was stiff and unbelievable. And of course the plot really never went anywhere.
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Format:Paperback
Richard Ford is an incredible writer. His works dig deep into the character's psyche. Ford usually finds his characters in the midst of a down cycle in their lives and explores their personal experience as they deal with life's trauma.
Not the usual novel nonsense where everything ends happily ever after, but a real life portrayal as an individual encounters the nitty gritty essentials of life and confronts the tough choices offered.
Ford is among the best American writers alive today and I think that this is his best book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't carry as a novel May 11 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Mr. Ford has an excellent prose style and as I began reading the book, I thought it was going to be excellent. The author seems unable to continue with anything interesting and the novel runs out of gas by the half way point. The characters are apathetic regarding their lives and their world and make the reader feel the same. In the end, I no longer cared about the characters (even loathed some of them) and I was happy when I reached the end.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite books by my favorite author alive today! May 23 1999
By James P. McMahon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Richard Ford is an incredible writer. His works dig deep into the character's psyche. Ford usually finds his characters in the midst of a down cycle in their lives and explores their personal experience as they deal with life's trauma.
Not the usual novel nonsense where everything ends happily ever after, but a real life portrayal as an individual encounters the nitty gritty essentials of life and confronts the tough choices offered.
Ford is among the best American writers alive today and I think that this is his best book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Re-evaluation... June 25 2010
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've read most of the works of Richard Ford, and remain an immense fan. His prose style is appealing, and his books contain incisive and unsettlingly depictions of America's middle class Independence Day and The Sportswriter as well as achingly powerful descriptions of the despair which is dominant in the lives of America's underclass Rock Springs.

I first read "The Ultimate Good Luck" 25 years ago; remember that at the time I did not consider it the equal to his other works. But perhaps it was only those "externalities" that were life back then that colored my opinion, so I just re-read it in the spirit of a re-evaluation.

The story is set in Oaxaca, Mexico, and involves the interactions of Americans with the Mexican ruling class as well as their underworld, which, as is so often the case, are intertwined and interdependent. Sonny is in jail, the result of his involvement in the illegal drug trade. Sonny's sister Rae, along with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Harry Quinn, are attempting to spring Sonny, and that involves money. Their principal Mexican contact is the lawyer Berhardt, who may be playing it straight, in his efforts to have Sonny released, but then, of course, may not. Deats, an American hustler in the drug trade, plays a scene with Quinn that could have been ripped from the movie, Pulp Fiction except for the fact that the movie was produced 13 years after the book, so it very well may have been the other way around, and I'd welcome comments from the more knowledgeable about that.

Ford saw so many of the elements that have only grown exponentially over the last 30 years: the violence inherent in the trade of illegal drugs that is ripping Mexican society apart, with the corresponding "collateral damage" to the Americans who venture too close, and whose appetite for these drugs is the root cause. And everyone is corrupted. Ford's style is literary "pointillism," the depiction of one aspect of the character's lives, then shifting to another, and in the end, hopefully when you step back to enjoy it all, you are dazzled by the luminance.

There are a fair share of Ford's pithy insights woven into the tale: "All the colleges he'd been in didn't teach him what he'd learned in two years out of the world, that once strangers you couldn't see started shooting guns at you and trying to set you on fire up in the sky, plans didn't take you too far." "It was never verifiable if most Mexican houses were half finished or half torn down." "It was what made them tourists. They looked and didn't see." Nothing remarkably original; and certainly the latter two are a mutual exchange of prejudices.

Harry Quinn is a "troubled-Vietnam-War-veteran" and yes, there are some in the real world, but their stereotypical depiction in books and movies is near universal. So, this time around I paid particular attention to how well Ford did on this issue. Alas, he relied on a pastiche of those Hollywood images, subtly woven into the story for sure, but fundamentally false, even impossible. Did Quinn fly helicopters (p 78), or was he dug in at Khe Sanh (p 112-113 - and the ultimate firebase is misspelled in the book!)? Was he also really at Phan Rang, where a woman said something to him in French (p 93)? And did he also stretch out on the China Beach (p 67)? Yes, you can have and do it all, but only in Hollywood, and just like in Hollywood, the denouement conforms to the cliché.

So... the falseness nags, and I wonder how much else is in the tale, in areas that I am less certain about, like Mexico, or the drug trade. Enjoy the individual dots on the canvas, like "...when the lake changed from the natural sequins in afternoon to dull oyster grey..." but when I stepped back, the overall picture was out of focus, and so my original verdict is confirmed, as they say in the law business: 4-stars.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Malevolent Mexico July 14 2009
By Patrick Mc Coy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was inspired to read some early Richard Ford after reading an essay about him by Elizabeth Hardwick. I'd previously read the frank Bascome novels: The Sportswriter and Independence Day, but haven't read anything by him in probably 10 years or more. I really enjoyed The Ultimate Good Luck. It had a sense of foreboding menace throughout but was also a fast moving thriller about a Vietnam vet who goes to Mexico to try and help his estranged wife Rae get her drug mule brother Sonny out of Mexican prison. This takes place in Oaxaca among student protests, corrupt soldiers and cops, drug lords, hippie tourists, and violent guerrillas. There is plenty of drug, taking, violence, and betrayals to fuel the adventure. It reminded me of novels like Dog Soldiers, Dog of the South, and No Country For Old Men. Hippies in malevolent Mexico chasing drug money and you know it's not going to turn out well for somebody.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Did not engange me, sadly. Jan. 3 2013
By Morten - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This my first novel by Richard Ford. Maybe I chose the wrong one. Never really got into the book, not credible.
6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't carry as a novel May 11 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mr. Ford has an excellent prose style and as I began reading the book, I thought it was going to be excellent. The author seems unable to continue with anything interesting and the novel runs out of gas by the half way point. The characters are apathetic regarding their lives and their world and make the reader feel the same. In the end, I no longer cared about the characters (even loathed some of them) and I was happy when I reached the end.
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