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December 4, 2013

Are You Ready to be Lucky? by Rosemary Nixon

are-you-ready-to-be-luckyWhile it’s true that silence greets most literary books entering the world, there is something conspicuous about the polite silence that tends to greet a literary novel about a middle-aged woman. Now part of the problem with such an assertion, of course, is that it’s often one uttered by authors who’ve written unremarkable books about middle-aged women, books whose silence is understandable (and even a victory. If only David Gilmour’s next novel could meet a similar fate). But in the case of Rosemary Nixon’s Are You Ready to be Lucky? (and Shaena Lambert’s Oh My Darling, while we’re at it), the silence is nothing short of an injustice, for the book itself and all the readers whose worlds would be so enriched by it.

So let’s break the silence then, shall we? Rosemary Nixon’s collection of linked short stories is one of the funniest, most original books I’ve read this year. I started reading it on Friday, found it hard to put down, and had devoured it by Sunday afternoon. Are you ready to be lucky, indeed.

The first sentence of this book: “Roslyn high-steps up Bantry Street on an icy Alberta evening buffeted by the late-December gusts, holding high her sixty by forty centimetre tray of pineapple stuffed meatballs, trying not to look like a woman who, at the yearly No Commitment Book Club gift exchange, received a can of gravy and two books called How to Seem Like a Better Person Without Actually Improving Yourself and The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead.”

The last sentence of the book is: “You fucking keep on playing.”

And let me tell you about everything that happens in between.

Roslyn’s just been dumped by her long-time husband, awful Harold. Carrying her pineapple stuffed meatballs, she’s on her way to a party, on the way to meet her fate. The party’s at the home of her friend Stella, a woman for whom being dumped has become a lifestyle. At the party, Roslyn meets Duncan Bloxham, and he chooses her. (Her delight of this fact is indicative of the slim pickings for divorced women in their 40s.) Her whole life having already fallen down around her, Roslyn sees no harm is getting carried away by the moment, and it’s not long before the two are married. Duncan is a pathological liar, a conman, an Imperialist asshole with a cruel streak and a terrible temper, however charming with his British accent. He’s the kind of character of whom the reader will wonder, “What does she possibly see in him?” Except Nixon tells us: the sex is fabulous. By the virtues of his cunnilingus, Roslyn hangs onto Duncan longer than she should, staying by his side on various adventures before finally kicking him out of her life.

We follow the couple to a community of British ex-pats in Spain in “Costa Blanca News”, and while I liked this part, there was a little too much “blimey,” the other characters rife with British stereotypes. In “Left”, Roslyn and Duncan are in England where she meets his family, and the true depth of his idle deceptions are made clear to her. Duncan is the most fascinatingly obnoxious character, so incredibly annoying that you’d like to hit him, and he calls to mind real people. Actual Duncans exist–you probably know this if you’re a middle-aged divorced woman. Nixon just has the chutzpah to put him down on paper.

In “The Sewers of Paris”, poor Stella has been dumped again, and she contemplates the one trip she took with her ex, a vacation from Paris far from the romantic ideal whose highlight was a tour of the city’s sewers. And in “Besides Construction,” we meet Lloyd, handyman hired to fix the crooked house that Roslyn bought after her marriage to Duncan ended. And the two of them dance around the idea of attraction to one another, Floyd a salt-of-the-earth type, not Roslyn’s type at all, but then lately, who is?

“In Which Floyd’s Odometer Passes the Million Kilometre Mark” is a story structured as a pinball machine, which it has in common with the whole book, actually. These are characters who wind up and bounce off one another just to see where things go. There is no traditional narrative structure in the book as a result, no tidy endings, no pat conclusions. The game goes on. “You just keep fucking playing.”

We meet Duncan again, back in Spain with another new wife, and later with even another, this one who he’d bought through the mail and who keeps her shit in the fridge. The story after that one is my favourite, in which Roslyn is en-route to her son’s wedding and drives her car into a deer. Yes, her son, Roslyn’s son Theo, whose wellbeing has been consistently kept in the back of her mind as she bounced from one adventure to another post-divorce. As she hits the deer, thereby ensuring that she’ll show up to the wedding late and rattled, if at all, she is listening to Jann Arden’s Good Mother on the radio, and the irony is not lost.

It is rare that such humour is balanced with incredible prose, cliche-free and striving to be something new with every sentence. This is a book that satisfies, not because it goes down easy, but because it fulfils a need in the reader for something that’s so profoundly good.

2 thoughts on “Are You Ready to be Lucky? by Rosemary Nixon”

  1. Maria Meindl says:

    Ah — where would we be without Kerry’s picks?
    I think I need this book!

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