October 21, 2007
Lottery by Patricia Wood
Finished on 10/16/07
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!!)
You all know that feeling, right? The feeling you get when that little voice whispers ever so quietly, "Oh my, this is going to be a wonderful book." You know it before you even finish the first chapter. You know it as you find yourself thinking of the characters throughout your busy day. You know it when you start composing a fan letter in your head to the author and decide (even before you're halfway through the book!) you simply must to buy several copies for Christmas gifts. You know it when you ignore all other responsibilities and spend the day (and much of the night) curled up on the couch, reading non-stop for hours. Then you stop. You put the book aside with 50 pages still unread. You want to savor those final chapters. You don't want to leave the characters you've come to love. Finally, you resume reading, allowing no interruptions to break the spell. And then you're finished. And you feel sad and lost, knowing that even though you'll read it again, you'll never again experience that magic as you just did for the first time. And yet, you're feeling excited, eager to return to work so you can begin hand selling it to all your favorite customers (alright, maybe that only happens to some of us); eager to sit down and write a review so all your blog-mates can share in the experience. Patricia Wood's Lottery is one of those rare books.
I'm not a gambler. I don't care to ever go to Vegas unless someone is willing to put me up in The Bellagio or Venetian. And, if I were to go, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't spend a single cent on a game of craps, blackjack, poker or even a slot machine. Life is a big enough gamble without adding to the losses. However, many years ago (oh, I was so young and foolish!) I decided to buy a lottery ticket. It was one of those scratch-off types. (You know, so I wouldn't have to obsess about which numbers to choose.) And get this! I won! Yes, I'm a lottery winner!! Of course it was only a $2 win, but it was a win, nonetheless. And that was the very last time I ever played. Quit while you're ahead, that's my motto.
Wood's debut novel shows us that happiness can be -- and perhaps must be -- found in the smallest of pleasures. All anyone really needs is a handful of loyal friends, a job that makes you happy, and love. Every week, Perry L. Crandall (the L is for Lucky, according to his Gram) buys five Lotto tickets at the Marina Handy Mart. He and Gram enjoy talking about what they'd do if they ever won the lottery. To others, their dreams may not seem like much, yet they lead happy (but simple) lives and don't need much in the way of fancy cars, jewelry or frivolities. Well, as luck would have it, Perry wins the Washington State Lottery. Oh, boy, does he win! Twelve million dollars! Life as he knows it suddenly becomes much more complicated. Yet, Perry can take care of himself. After all, he's thirty-two years old. He's not stupid and he's certainly not retarded. He's quick to correct anyone who claims he is, pointing out that one has to have an IQ of less than 75 to be retarded and his IQ is 76. Definitely not retarded. Gram says he's just slow.
There are times I forget I am slow. When I am riding my bike to Holstead's. When I scrub teak on the deck of a sailboat with Keith. When Gary lets me fill out paperwork in the office. When I am by myself. Without other people. They are the ones who are fast. They talk fast and think faster.
"Turning themselves into butter!" Gram thinks regular people are too speedy. "Around and around and around they turn. Watch, Perry!"
Gram is right. I see them on the bus as I look through the window. Driving, talking on their cell phones, eating a breakfast sandwich, all at the same time. I see them at the marina, clicking into tiny computers that they carry around. Gram calls them pets.
"Goddamn metallic pets! Look, Perry! Like they're attached to the end of their fingers." Then she will cackle and do her witch laugh.
There are times I am glad I am slow. I see things. I hear things. And there are times I don't think about it at all.
Lottery is one of those books that may have slipped under my radar had it not been for Bookfool's lovely review over at Estella's Revenge. As you all know, Rod & I recently spent two weeks cruising the San Juan Islands on my dad and step mom's boat, so I was especially interested in the novel when I learned it takes place in the Pacific Northwest (specifically, Everett, Washington). I grew even more excited when I discovered the author lives aboard her 48' ketch with her husband in Hawaii. It's quite obvious that she knows her stuff, as all the nautical references rang true even to this novice. While I certainly don't know half as much as my dad or husband when it comes to boating (although, I do now know the purpose and importance of a bilge pump!), I've learned quite a bit in recent years. One can't help but learn some nautical terminology when one lives with someone who rereads Chapman's every single year!
But it wasn't simply the locale and boat life that drew me into the narrative. Newcomer though she is, Wood writes likes a seasoned author. The pacing is flawlessly even. The dialogue rings true. All but one or two of the characters are fleshed out and believable. (I would have liked to have seen a couple of these minor characters a little less one-dimensional, but this truly is a minor quibble.) I loved the humor, as well as the tender moments. This is one of the many passages that made me laugh:
Keith is older and bigger than me. I do not call him fat because that would not be nice. He cannot help being older. I can always tell how old people are by the songs they like. For example, Gary and Keith like the Beatles, so they are both older than me. Gram likes songs you never hear anymore, like "Hungry for Love" by Patsy Cline and "Always" by somebody else who is dead. If the songs you like are all by dead people, then you are really old."
Gram can blow smoke out the side of her mouth and through her nose. She limits herself. "Only two menthol cigarettes a day. Count 'em. One. Two."
She will hold them up in front of me.
Sometimes, Gram loses count.
I finished the book a few days ago (read it in less than 24 hours) and already I miss Perry. He joins my list of favorite characters, keeping company with Owen (A Prayer for Owen Meany), Scout (To Kill A Mockingbird), Swede (Peace Like a River), and Leisel and Rudy (The Book Thief). I loved his general outlook on life. He may lead a simple life, but it's rich, full of purpose and meaning. I loved his naiveté and untarnished view of the world. In his Forrest Gump-like manner, he tells it like it is with pure, unadulterated honesty. I believe there's a lot to learn from this, as well as from the homespun wisdom bestowed upon him by his Gram.
I'm not sure what I'd do if I were to ever win $12 million dollars, but I'm fairly certain that the first thing on my list would be to buy a house on an island somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (with a boat, of course!). I'd love to continue working in a bookstore, but maybe just part-time. There just aren't enough hours in the day to read as often as I'd like.
Maybe it wouldn't hurt to buy just one lottery ticket...
One final note... I sure hope living aboard a boat continues to be conducive to writing, as I can hardly wait for Patricia Wood to publish another novel. And, I hope this isn't the last we see of Perry!
Update: Go here to see what made me smile this morning!