I first wrote this review of Lottery by Patricia Wood in November of 2007 and didn't realize I had never republished it on my blog (it was originally published at The Estella Collective) until I wrote my review of Cupidity, also by Patricia Wood, and couldn't find the review to link up to. So, this is an older review, republished to get it onto my blog. It's worth reprinting because the book is phenomenal; it was short-listed for the Orange Prize and I've been craving a reread, thanks to Cupidity. See also, my review of Cupidity by Patricia Wood.
The man chews his cigar, looks at his watch, squeezes his fender, and talks to Gary, all at the same time. “I need to get to the San Juans . . . Friday Harbor . . . Three weeks vacation . . . Can we speed this up?” he asks. “I need to get going.” He looks at his watch, again.
Vacations are when you stop being in a hurry to go to work and start being in a hurry to go someplace else.
Lottery is the story of Perry L. Crandall, a caring and sensitive man with an IQ of 76. The L in his name, his Gram tells him, stands for “Lucky”. When Perry proves his luck by winning the Washington State Lottery, suddenly his life changes dramatically. People who were unwilling to look him in the eye now boldly ask him for money, the family members who ignored him suddenly become concerned about his well-being and clerks treat him with obsequiousness during shopping trips. But, will Perry be able to handle his windfall or is the fact that he’s slower than average likely to become his undoing?
Because Lottery is written from Perry’s point of view, there’s a simplicity and power to the story. The reader knows how Perry thinks and what’s important to him, feels the pain of condescension and insult, becomes angry at the way people speak within his hearing, assuming that he’s unable to translate their plots to take advantage of him. There’s an immediacy to the story, a feeling that one must keep rapidly turning the pages because Perry is such a delightful character that the reader absolutely must know what’s going to occur.
In fact, Perry has difficulty remembering and understanding certain concepts, but throughout the reading of Lottery the reader gains an understanding of how meaningless an intelligence quotient really is. Perry has his own brand of wisdom and is intelligent in many ways. His translations of the implication within spoken words reflects an ability to observe and reason. Because he reads from a dictionary and takes notes, each day, Perry develops a deeper comprehension of words and their varying definitions than most of the people around him.
When the story opens, Perry has been working at Holsted’s Marine Supply in Everett, Washington for many years. His late grandfather taught him to sail and Perry knows boats and their requirements better than the other employees and often even his boss; his Gram spouts bits of wisdom and bolsters his self-confidence. When she thinks he’s out of line, she says, “Don’t be smart.” Friends Keith and Gary -- Perry’s fellow employee and employer -- along with his Gram, treat him with the respect that nobody else offers him.
By the time Perry wins the lottery, the reader is intimately acquainted with Perry, enough to know which of his acquaintances are true friends and who will steal from him if given the chance. What the reader doesn’t know is how Perry will handle the threats and opportunities around him.
Even while I was madly turning pages as I read this novel -- a book that I could barely stand to put down the night I began reading and snatched up the moment I had time to read, the next day -- I feared that the predictable course would unfold. Perry is a warm, generous and kind-hearted character that you can’t help but root for and fall in love with. It’s only natural to want the best to happen and to fear the fate that seems inevitable when his family swoops in and attempts to fleece him.
To avoid spoiling the novel, I can only say that the entire book was full of pleasant surprises, cringe-inducing moments, smiles and tears. Lottery is an involving book -- emotional on many levels. I laughed, I cried, I loved Lottery. Since I closed the book, nearly two weeks ago, I’ve observed that I often hear Perry’s voice when I see something awe-inspiring and remember his oft-repeated words, “That is so cool!”
In the author’s introductory note, she describes the background of Lottery and her “need to write a compelling story that people will listen to, remember, and learn from.” Did she succeed? Absolutely. Perry L. Crandall is a character I plan to revisit, both for his and his Gram’s unique brand of wisdom. Is the novel compelling? Definitely. Did I learn from the story? No doubt about it. Author Patricia Wood succeeded on all levels and I hope that she’ll publish a second novel very soon.
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