Thursday, May 7, 2009

Non Laughter Reviews: BOOKCLUB

by Patricia Wood
Literary Fiction

Cognitively challenged man wins the lottery, releasing an explosion of opinions about what he should do next.

What Works
This was a very thought-provoking novel in terms of premise as well as literary strategies employed by the author to tell the story, written in first-person point of view. It opens with Perry describing his 'regular' life; working in a marina, functioning according to regular habits of what activities and what meals belong with which days of the week, utterly ignored by brothers and mother who live elsewhere and make him call them 'cousins' and 'Louise' so as to deny the true relationship. Perry was raised by loving grandparents, themselves struggling to cope after their son, Perry's father, embezzled money to abscond to the Caribbean, forcing bankruptcy of their shipyard and the premature death of the grandfather. Soon after the story begins, Perry's beloved grandmother also passes away, and the remaning relatives make off with anything financially valuable in the home and overturn the deceased's arrangements to have the house left for Perry by persuading him to sign a power of attorney. He moves into a small apartment above the marina with his few remaining mementos of his grandmother (a favorite dress, a dictionary, and a book of crossword puzzles - all of which he considers 'the good stuff' because of their connection to her) and struggles to establish new patterns for each day of the week. Supporting him, to the best of their limited ability, are his boss (a family friend of the grandparents), his colleague Keith (an uncouth, emotionally scarred Viet Nam vet), and Cherry, (an abused teenager who works as cashier at the corner store and whom he shyly admires from a distance).

Perry buys the winning ticket. The resultant fame creates all sorts of situations in which he must decide how to respond to suggestions and pressure from those who wish to exploit him as well as those who believe they have his best interests at heart. The choices he makes, the ones he doesn't, and the reasons why make for a very compelling story that forces a close look at what is valuable, the basis for love, whether there should be limits to independence, and how success and failure in life are judged.

What Doesn't
The bookclub debate on the ending was lively, to say the least. Most readers reported at least an initial feeling of passionate unhappiness at what could be interpreted as injustice; however many, if not all, expressed satisfaction at how things turned out once they'd had an opportunity to think on it independently, and for sure after the author shared her reasoning for ending it the way she did. Yes, that's right. The author participated in our bookclub's discussion by telephone from her boat in Hawaii. COOLEST BOOKCLUB DISCUSSION EVER.
That reasoning was: did Perry make the best decisions? Maybe, maybe not. But that was irrelevant; the point was, that it had become important for him to make a 'big' decision completely on his own - and he did, so in that sense, he triumphed. And with that simple observation, eloquently pointed out by a highly-engaged activist for self-determination of people of all capacities, what some readers considered the book's greatest weakness transformed into it's greatest strength.

A quick, enjoyable, and thoughtful read from a point-of-view that rarely finds an opportunity for widespread expression. Bookclub members were almost unanimous in their final evaluation that they liked it and would recommend the book to others. What the bookclub members were definitely unanimous about was the positive experience of having the chance to interact with the author. Give it a try!


Julia Phillips Smith said...


M. said...

It really was

Thomma Lyn said...

That's fabulous! I know of Patricia Wood from Absolute Write Water Cooler, and she is one of the most gracious, nifty writers I've ever run across.

M. said...

Small world! Yes, it was fascinating talking to her from her triple perspective of author/ inclusion activist / daughter of a person who won millions in the lottery and is in the 5% of winners who aren't worse off than they were before five years after winning. It was a great discussion.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

M - I'm having an art show over at my place - drop in if you get a minute.