In Patricia Wood’s debut novel “Lottery,” her narrator is not what those in literary circles would call reliable. And in society, Perry would not even be considered likeable. He is not blessed with a high IQ or charming good looks. He is not the all-American boy next door. He is not a savvy, successful businessman. Anything but.
He does, however, have money. And while that makes his once distant family glom onto him like a barnacle to a boat, it’s really his lack of brains and beauty that make Perry a hero to the reader. And that’s what counts here.
Perry L. Crandall says the “L” in his name stands for “Lucky.” And considering he does win $12 million in the Washington State Lottery, you might suppose he is. But look closer: Perry is “slow.” Don’t mistake that for being retarded. “I am thirty-two years old and I am not retarded,” says Perry. “You have to have an IQ number less than 75 to be retarded. I read that in Reader’s Digest. I am not. Mine is 76.”
When Perry was born, his parents abandoned him, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents. His brothers distance their relation to him by calling him their “cousin-brother.” One day, after sailing, his grandfather falls dead of a heart attack. Then, on a Tuesday morning, August 12, Perry’s beloved Gram does not wake up. Perry is 31.
It’s precisely because of this string of bad luck that we like him. He is an underdog, so we root for Perry.
What Perry does have going for him — before and after her death — is Gram, his paternal grandmother. When Perry comes home from school one day and tells his Gram that the other kids call him “moron, “idiot,” and “retard,” Gram says, “‘Don’t you pay any attention to them, Perry. ‘Those other kids are too goddamned fast. If you want to remember, you write it down in your notebook. See … I’m not slow. I’m old. I have to write things down,’ she said. ‘People treat you the same when you’re old as when you’re slow.’”
Because Perry is “suggestible” and does whatever people ask him to do, Gram helps Perry make a list of people he can trust. Police top the list. Gram comes in second. Then, Perry’s boss Gary.
Gram teaches Perry to learn a word a day from the dictionary. And to deposit half his paycheck into his checking account and the other half into his savings account. Every week, Gram instructs Perry to buy five Lotto tickets.
Long after Gram is dead, Perry continues to do what she told him. Because Gram is number two on his list.
One quality of a literary novel is a character-driven plot and Wood’s book hinges on her protagonist. Throughout, Perry is likeable, and at the start, he is also quirky. That makes him interesting. But — remember — Perry is slow, and that also makes him predictable. So about halfway through the book, after Gram is dead and Perry has won his $12 million dollars, the character of Perry grows trite. But then, just when we think we have Perry figured out, Wood lets the wind out of our sails. Two plot twists expose a new Perry. A Perry who stops relying on others. A Perry, you could say, who himself now tops his list of trustworthy people.
And that’s why 116 people and counting rate “Lottery” a 4.5 out of 5 at amazon.com
• Reprinted with permission from OutriggerHawaii.com