Friday, August 30, 2013

A Streak of Luck by Richelle Kosar

When I read the blurb for this novel, I thought it was going to be about a poor family that wins the lottery and  then has to struggle with the results. But actually, though the parents - Jesse and Mona - discover they have the winning ticket early on, the rest of the story is told in flashbacks and then day-by-day in real time, so that by the time the family gets dressed up and goes to the lottery office to collect their winnings, there's only about twenty pages left.

The novel itself is a fascinating account of poverty, through the alternating perspectives of the three women of the family - Mona and her daughters, Rebecca and Cory. Mona and Jesse meet when they are young and spend years living in her mother's house in a small town in Saskatchewan, Jesse playing in a band and Mona working menial jobs, acquiring neither skills nor savings. After their youngest child, Joey, dies in a thoroughly preventable accident, their marriage rapidly falls apart. One day Jesse leaves. Months later, Mona finds out that he is in Toronto, packs up the girls and the last of their money, and goes to find him.

The author makes a lot of interesting choices in this book, most of which pay off in my opinion. I like that we hear from everyone except Jesse, while their narratives center him implicitly. I loved how Mona's devotion to an artistic, impractical person is mirrored in her daughters' attraction to similar characters in their own lives, and how their choices are irresistibly affected by what they have seen their mother go through. Rebecca longs for a life of wealth, and uses her good looks to attract wealthy men and bask in their attention. Relationships are a business transaction for her, a stepping stone into the life she believes she deserves. She is obsessed with money, and when she finds herself attracted to the unsuccessful actor who works at a pizza restaurant with her mother, she can barely even admit to herself that it is, in fact, attraction. Rebecca looks at her parents' lives and sees that you must choose either love or money.

Cory is younger, in highschool, and is drawn in by a creepy classmate who solicits her help in writing an X-Files script, and whose unstable home life frightens Cory. Although she hates being poor, she is not obsessed with money in the way her sister is; what has affected Cory more about her parents' relationship is the long period of separation, and the lack of harmony in the home. Her dilemma is more complicated than Rebecca's but in the end she makes a similar choice; two children can sustain a lot of damage from the breakdown of a marriage, but the loss of faith in love is a big one for both.

There is a lot going on in this story, but I think it is mainly about the way poverty and love affect each other, and how difficult it is to balance being pragmatic about money with being artistic and creative and open to the universe and to love. Most people don't have the privilege to do both. It is a beautifully written, perfectly bittersweet novel, and I enjoyed it very much even though it was heartbreaking. Toronto has a great role as the grimy, soulless big city, proving that it is all things to all people, I guess. I would definitely read this author again.

Four CN Towers out of five.

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