Friday, April 12, 2024


Lucky by Jane Smiley
4/23/24; 384 pages
Knopf Doubleday

Lucky by Jane Smiley is a polarizing literary novel which covers decades in the life of a folk musician. It is recommended; highly for the right reader.

Jodie Rattler grew up in St. Louis with her mother and near her extended family. She first discovered she was lucky in 1955 when she was six years old and her uncle Drew took her to the racetrack. A roll of two-dollar bills were the physical representation of that luck and she keeps them near her and hidden for years. Jodie always had a love of music along with her family. When she is studying at Penn State in the 1969, her singing career takes off after one of her songs becomes a surprise hit. She does well in royalties and even better after her uncle Drew handles the investment of her windfall. This allows her to travel and even spend time abroad.

Many successful musicians of the time periods involved are mentioned throughout the novel. It is sort of a musical coming of age novel through the 70's and 80's (and on) pop culture, but the plot also focuses on Jodie's relationship with her family. There are a lot of lyrics for the songs Jodie writes included in the narrative and the impetus for the lyrics is part of the story. The actual quality/credibility of the lyrics is debatable. Along the way there are several times Jodie sees a high school classmate she refers to only as the "gawky girl." (It is later clearly revealed that the gawky girl is a stand-in for Smiley.) Jodie does settle down back in St. Louis to care for her mother and grandparents.

The writing is excellent and I was really enjoying this story of a woman's life. Sure, as a character Jodi can be a little self-involved and the plot does move slowly in parts, but there is also a nostalgic element to the narrative as it list musicians for years past that is appealing. 

What totally changes everything is the abrupt change in structure, tone, and voice in the final epilogue. How do you rate a book that abruptly changes directions to a stupefying ending? I keep stalling on writing a review, flipping back and forth on how I feel, and that is not a satisfying reading experience so I need to go with a neutral rating. Thanks to Knopf Doubleday for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

No comments: