We all have life stories. You know, the *you'll never believe it, how did that happen, what was I thinking, but it's true* stories. We all tell them. Nate wrote his down. Anticipation is rewarded with laughter jumping out of unexpected corners or a heartfelt nod of understanding. What a brilliant reminder that life is messy, but worth every minute!
Dry humor and rotten luck abound in this collection of short personal essays.
In his first essay, Barber recounts life as a droll cafe manager, interviewing for a middle-management job, and being peed on outside of a cafe. From there, he pivots awkwardly to his adventures as a landlord with a difficult tenant, complete with manic email exchanges with lots of capitalization and exclamation points. The majority of the essays feature Barber as a teenager, narrating his years playing various instruments in school bands. His humor when recounting high school is natural (tall red plumes on the marching-band hats lend the band the nickname the “Lockstep Tampons”), and he has a nemesis in the cocky and punishing band director, Mr. Millson. In another essay, Barber challenges his school’s dress code by defiantly wearing a skirt and winds up in a fight with a robot. Later essays reveal more personal accounts about, for example, divorce and the loss of his brother. Barber has a knack for mining a story for its quirkiest and most humorous details. At first, the disjointed subject matter makes it difficult for the reader to grasp just who this narrator is—a barista, an out-of-luck landlord, a band geek, a hero? While the Pacific Northwest is the obvious backdrop for these essays, it’s harder to discern when they’re taking place, two years ago or 20 years ago. The best essays are the vignettes tied by a common theme—high school–band antics, his brother Patrick—where the reader inhabits one world for longer than just a few pages. There are a few opaque essays (in “Morbid Curiosity,” something indecipherable has happened involving a lawsuit). It’s refreshing to read the concluding essay, “The Prank,” where Barber lucidly and tenderly recalls his siblings.
Former band geeks may recognize themselves in some of Barber’s high school memories, but more universal moments are rare.
I don't often read creative nonfiction, but when I do, I prefer Nathaniel Barber. (LFTP) left me wanting to read more of his stories, though I'm not sure I would wish upon him more of the experiences that produced these.
Luck Favors the Prepared gives you an opportunity to reflect on life with all of its twists and turns, humor and sadness, success and failures. This was one of those books I couldn't put down. Was it because I knew the author and his family when he was in grade school and I was keen to know how his life evolved? Perhaps that is the case as he was a student of mine. Nathaniel's story reminds us that life is fragile, that the ones you love and trust the most can give you the biggest heartache and disappointment. It reads like a baseball game is played. You never know who your fans are, where the next curve ball will come from, when that home run will win the game, how many foul balls will be hit before there is a strike out—when to cheer and when to boo the umpire. I got caught up in the game and couldn't get out until the last play. Winner. "Anyway, it was so long ago." - Nathaniel Barber
Reviewed by Raymond Phillips
Luck Favors the Prepared is honest, ironic, sad, funny, and human. Mr. Barber has arranged these lovely and touching stories in such a manner that it reminds me of a well engineered mix tape. Each track is in its perfect position and brings you up, down, and back around again. You'll want to do nothing but listen over and over.
Here we have a collection of stories that the unsuspecting reader might think is a charmingly lighthearted account of the travails that the author encounters in everyday life. You know the genre - it uses clever and amusing prose to describe those things that we all love (or hate) and it leaves us laughing and feeling good about the world in general. Things like starting the new job. We all have had to do that. But wait! This first story seems to end on a somewhat edgy note(?!). Thus appears the first indication that the book is, perhaps, going to offer something different than we first expected. As it turns out, it does, and it offers much, much more.
Prepare to be engaged by an artfully-organized series of stories that spans a portion of the author’s life that ranges from school days to adulthood. What follows is one wonderfully- described scene after another which creates a narrative that runs the gamut of human emotions. They are woven together in non-chronological order to form an intimate, yet oddly indistinct, portrait of the writer. We are taken back to high school to remind us of the inequities that are dealt out to those who fail to conform. In adult life the same fierce opposition to the mundane lands our hero in situations that are by turns sad, hilarious and tragic. At the end of this journey you will have become emotionally invested in this fellow, Nate Barber, who has opened a small but revealing portal into his life.
As the author states in the disclaimer, this is a work of creative non-fiction but it tends toward personal memoir. His willingness to reveal, with candor, the details of his personal life compels a strong empathetic response. One then cannot help but wonder at the arc of his life that provided the context for these tales. But by design, or perhaps, with some reserve of reticence, many important details are withheld from the reader and this leaves us eager to want to know more. Alternatively, we as the readers may choose to fill in the blanks ourselves and construct a world for him to live out his days in contentment. This is not a bad option and it may be the very thing that Nate intends us to do.
High school Nate is the kid who sees the shit he’s dealt and feels a justice-seeking compulsion to hold it up to the light… which is most often attached to a ceiling fan. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s actual shit.
Meet the storyteller’s villains: a band teacher, a robot, a woman he’s never met, a brother. His accomplices: a pair of pants, a fake lawyer, a 13-year-old French exchange student, the same brother. This is real life, so sometimes no one wins.
This autobiographical dark comedy felt full of humanity—heavy and ridiculous both. Often I didn’t know if the waiting would bring a punch line or a punch to the gut. It turns out, usually both. The stories are carried by humor, but most are built on the weight of an imperfect reality. After laughing at his jokes, I’m left wanting to hug this brave kid and tell him he’s not crazy… at least, not entirely.
This book is like a box of chocolates, but the box is spring-loaded, and the chocolates are a pharm party of uppers, downers, and something that makes you feel like you’re going to throw up. But way better than that sounds. It exists in the impossible center of a nightmare venn diagram: intimate, unpretentious, visceral, hilarious, grotesque, blunt, masterly, brutal, tragic, and hopeful. I have more adjectives, but let’s not go crazy.
You know that friend of yours who seems to have had a disproportionate number of experiences? Some bizarre, some horrifying, some tragic, and some hilarious... Some of them a grotesque slurry of all those things. And you know how that friend of yours is also really good at telling stories? Well, he wrote a book. You should probably read it. That friend of yours who reads a lot said so.
Well-packaged. Would buy again.
So he wrote a book? Is that what he’s doing with himself these days? Maybe instead of writing all the time he could pay a little more attention to his wife and daughter? Or perhaps fix up one of those awful bike shaped things in his backyard so he can stop asking us to drive him to his clarinet lessons. Yes, we know he stopped taking clarinet lessons almost 25 years ago, but you get the point. Also, when is he going to return our bench vice? Tell him his father needs it for a project he's got coming up.