Luck

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One woman is an ex-beauty-queen, one is a recovering addict to virtue, and one is an artist. The man of the big old house on the hill, Philip Lawrence, is suddenly dead and his departure is bound to have dramatic effects. The abruptly widowed Nora, whose recent works of biblical art have caused a fundamentalist furor in their town, is unexpectedly confronted by solo life in a place she despises. Beth, her wispy, beautiful model, faces losing a haven from her own eerie history, while housekeeper Sophie, a former ...

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Overview

One woman is an ex-beauty-queen, one is a recovering addict to virtue, and one is an artist. The man of the big old house on the hill, Philip Lawrence, is suddenly dead and his departure is bound to have dramatic effects. The abruptly widowed Nora, whose recent works of biblical art have caused a fundamentalist furor in their town, is unexpectedly confronted by solo life in a place she despises. Beth, her wispy, beautiful model, faces losing a haven from her own eerie history, while housekeeper Sophie, a former overseas aid volunteer shattered by trauma, will have to find new ways to resist old compulsions. Luck follows the three days after Philip's death as the women careen through circumstances none of them could ever have imagined. 3 days, 3 women. The big question is 'What's next?'

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Canadian novelist Barfoot (Dancing in the Dark) may finally get the recognition she deserves for this brilliantly conceived, masterfully realized 10th novel. Nora, a successful sculptor in her late 30s, wakes up one morning to find her custom furniture-designer husband, Philip Lawrence, 46, dead beside her. The rest of the novel simply follows her and the rest of the household, verit -style, as they make decisions and try to internalize what has happened over the course of that day and the two that follow. The rest of the household consists of Beth, a wispy former model who moved in to serve as Nora's muse over the past few years, and Sophie, a fleshy economist who burned out as an aid worker, and has been holed up with the other three as caretaker and financial manager. Barfoot makes the most of this uncomfortable m nage without overplaying her hand a single time: yes, Philip and Sophie were sleeping together, and yes, it's even possible that Beth poisoned Philip in order to get with Nora. Barfoot alternates among the three women's points of view with comic but never trivializing adroitness, and expertly spins out their backstories and recent lives together. The book is set in an English West Country town (with flashbacks to London), and there's a nice subplot concerning Nora's controversial use of religious imagery. But the real fireworks are in the minute explorations of this closed set of unorthodox relationships, all brought to a finish in a short coda set a year after Philip's death. Coming upon this novel is a fine piece of luck indeed. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The title of this novel, the tenth by Canadian author Barfoot (Critical Injuries), refers to the chance twists that lead us toward our fates. When Philip Lawrence fails to wake up one morning, his death sets in motion events that lead to inspiration, romance, and reformation. Over three days, his widow, Nora, a sculptor, begins to accept this loss and even to deal with it through her controversial art. Two other women in the household-Sophie, a personal assistant who'd been having an affair with Philip, and Beth, a beautiful but remote model for Nora's sacrilegious artwork-must also deal with what his passing means for their own futures. The plot tension derives from learning exactly what sort of art Nora created that caused such community outrage and unraveling the troubled pasts of Sophie, who witnessed horrors as a foreign aid worker, and Beth, whose beauty masks a chilling interior. The pace is slow at first but picks up as Beth's demons are exposed; the spare prose is lovely. But though the portraits of the three women are compelling and detailed, those of the men, including Philip, are less fully realized. Recommended.-Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Canadian author Barfoot (Critical Injuries, 2002, etc.) displays a quiet brilliance in her latest novel, about three women who come to terms with the unexpected death of the man in their midst. In a large house in a small town, somewhere in North America, a man dies in his sleep. The middle-aged and hitherto robust Philip Lawrence has had a heart attack. His wife Nora screams, something she failed to do years before when she rang a doorbell and first encountered Philip "lean, grinning, nude." Impressed by her cool, Philip promptly jettisoned his first wife and took Nora back to his hometown, where he thrived as a furniture designer and she as a cutting-edge artist. Nora's scream brings Sophie and Beth running. Sophie, a voluptuous, 30-ish redhead, is the housekeeper/bookkeeper; the younger Beth, a beautiful airhead, is Nora's live-in model. The novel plays out over the next three days, culminating in the funeral. Wryly humorous and bittersweet, it is full of surprises. For the last two months, Philip and Sophie have been lovers, passionate but cautious; Sophie, then, is as devastated as Nora. Beth, however, feels liberated; she has erotic designs on Nora. There are intriguing mysteries: Why has Nora's artwork caused outraged townspeople to daub their fence with graffiti? What is causing Sophie's nightmares? Why is Beth so tight-lipped about her family? (The answer there is a real shocker.) As the funeral nears, the memory of good-hearted, gregarious, sometimes fickle Philip is everywhere. Nestled snugly within the narrative are numerous themes: the nature of grief, the making of art, the uses (and misuses) of beauty, with the role of chance looping through them all. There is a livelyfuneral (Beth goes nuts, for one) and a satisfying coda at an art gallery a year later. Barfoot brings a fine protean energy to the different perspectives of the women, intensifying our curiosity about their destinies; nice work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786716463
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/14/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 0.71 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Barfoot is an internationally acclaimed novelist. Her last book, Critical Injuries was longlisted for the Booker Prize and her novel Dancing in the Dark was made into an award-winning film. She lives in London, Ontario.

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Read an Excerpt

Luck


By Joan Barfoot

Random House

Joan Barfoot
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0676977006


Chapter One

The First Day

One


There is good luck, and there is bad luck, and then there's the ambiguous sort of luck that's a lot of this and some of the other. For instance:

When Philip Lawrence, already recipient of a reasonably gratifying life, has the misfortune to die, he is just forty-six, which in some other part of the world or some other century would be a grand old age, but is terribly young in this place and time. On the other hand it is his good luck to die quietly in his bed, apparently in his sleep, a remarkably mild and merciful, even enviable, ending. So when Philip Lawrence drifts in the embrace of good luck and bad out of life in the course of an August night, while the air conditioning wafts its comfort indoors, while outside, grass shrivels, flowers wilt, trees droop, animals pant for moisture and air, when the moon is bright but the curtains are drawn and the big old house is mainly silent except for the sounds big old houses make to themselves in the night, there is no particular need to feel sorry for him. Surely if he has suffered at all, it can have been only briefly.

A different matter entirely for the living.

Not at all enviable or awash in good fortune is whoever wakens beside him and stretches, running the planned events of the day muzzily through the mind, reorienting slowly to the deliciously ordinary or the warmly anticipated, and finds herself on the pillow next to, on the same mattress as, the inert, the cooling, the truly departed. An unambiguously nasty moment for that person, turning to speak, turning to touch. This is no way for a day to begin; nor, really, for anything else to begin, but like it or not there is death lurking, life's great big vanishing question mark. Might as well see what's to be made of it. Buck up and face it since, one way and another, everyone must.

Today death is rolling into the lives of Nora, Sophie and Beth, and it won't be long before the entertaining question will arise: which of the three draws the cosmic short straw, who wakens amiably beside Philip Lawrence and is hurtled, unprepared, into horror and shock? What does she do? How does she tell the others -- oh, many questions to spark the tongues of the villagers; those villagers, Nora has lately come to feel, who might in another country, another century, have gathered up torches to carry to the house on the hill, intending to punish, and with any luck burn.

But Nora's imagination is in morbid overdrive anyway, since she is, in fact, the one who draws the short straw. It's Nora who feels consciousness creeping back an hour or so after the dawn. Who is cooled by air conditioning, not by death. Who rolls onto her back and stretches her legs and curls her plump arms over her head, feeling the exhilarating blood warming her arteries and her veins. Who begins ticking off in her mind the anticipated events of the day ahead, and who finally turns to Philip, her husband (and wouldn't the villagers be disappointed to know it's Nora respectably beside him at this unrespectable moment?), and sees him smiling a strange, drawn, pale smile.

A rictus, as it turns out. Nora does not understand this right away. Most people don't absorb new information quite that swiftly. She thinks he is having a dream. Even a pleasant dream, considering the strange smile.

There's much to be done, though, no time to waste waiting for dreams, however pleasant, to run their generally unmemorable course; and so she says, softly but cheerfully, intending to give an optimistic bounce to the start of the day, "Philip, wake up, time to get going." Their plans are to drive to the city a couple of hours away and meet up with Max for lunch and a discussion of a show of her work within the next year or so. Max, who owns a gallery and has represented her for almost two decades, only a few days longer than she's known Philip, wants to set tentative dates. He has also mentioned he would like to see fresh directions, as she would herself, but these things take time to begin revealing themselves, and then to sink in. So: lunch at a fine and far-away restaurant with Philip and Max, an intense but also languorous conversation with two good men on various interesting subjects -- what could be a happier prospect?

Not to mention that this could be one of those exciting days in which new directions come clearer.

As it will be.

"Come on, let's go, we've got lovely big plans." Philip, an exuberant man, tends to respond to exuberance, if also, less openly and appealingly, to certain kinds of mute need. Whatever his preferences, Nora can only use the devices and charms she has. It is too late to figure out new ones.

Later than she could have imagined. Philip is not merely resisting her, content in his dream. She realizes this as her hand grips his arm, intending to shake him, although gently, beginning the day as it should be begun if it is to continue as it ought to continue. His arm is curiously unmalleable. It will not be easily shaken. It implies an absence that has not been implied before.

Nora screams. She leaps up.

She immediately regrets, not the leaping -- who would not leap? -- but the scream. It calls attention, it calls the others, she has lost the moment that was just hers. Drawn by the highly unusual sound of Nora screaming, Beth dashes into the bedroom doorway from one direction, her thin cotton nightie awry, and from the other direction comes Sophie still in the process of struggling into her robe, one arm caught and the material flying. Sophie sleeps naked, which it would please the villagers to know, but which does not please Nora, already thoroughly distressed and in no mood for a vision of Sophie's large, bounding breasts, her fleshy hips, that clutch of invasive red pubic hair, particularly tasteless and bold in the circumstance.

Also, what if Philip weren't dead, what sort of state would this be to arrive in?

"What? What?" Beth has the slight voice of a girl, insufficient to many occasions, absurd and offensive in this one.

Sophie's tone, her "What is it, what's wrong?" is also inappropriate. Too hearty, too ready to take action: to defend or to diagnose and then repair.

No defence possible. No repairs to be done. Diagnosis too late.

"He's dead," Nora says, her own voice, not quite under control, still surprised.

Well, what a mixture of voices then, a choral chaos -- what is to be done? Make coffee, make tea, close the bedroom door, not in that order. Shut out the sight of Philip, dead and smiling his dreaming rictus smile, shut out his easy overnight departure, shut out the tightening of his limbs, shut out the chill.

Call his doctor. Call an ambulance. Why? Never mind, it's what's done. No one thinks to get dressed, except for Sophie pulling her peacock-bright robe properly around her large bounding breasts, her fleshy hips, her invasive red pubic hair; and so Beth is still in her cotton nightie, Nora still in her white panties and Philip's blue pyjama top, all three of them in disarray when the ambulance screams up, its mechanical wail a reproach, making Nora's already-lost scream insufficiently shocked, inadequately shocking, for the occasion.

Philip's doctor, Ted Marlowe, pulls up in his Jetta. Here comes a police car as well, although without sirens or lights.

A man and a woman in matching dark blue rush from the ambulance up the bricked walkway, and up the four steps, and across the hardwood-floored porch to the massive front door, already opened by Nora. Between them they are wielding a stretcher of black rubber, black plastic and something like chrome. "Up there," and Nora gestures to the staircase. "Second door on the right." Her thighs, revealed to the daylight, are not what they once were. Neither are Sophie's, or even Beth's, but theirs are concealed.


Excerpted from Luck by Joan Barfoot
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Foreword

1. When Nora wakes up to find Philip dead, the narrator observes: “This is no way for a day to begin; nor, really, for anything else to begin…” And yet, death is a marvelous way for a novel to begin. Based on your reading of Luck, why does death function so effectively as a triggering event?

2. “Sometimes Sophie’s history manifests itself in strange ways; like an old wallpaper pattern under paint, it shows through in certain lights.” Discuss how the back-story of each of the main characters colours her reaction to Philip’s death.

3. Luck has been called a comedy of manners, a satire, a tragicomedy, a danse macabre and a chamber-piece. How would you characterize it? What in your view makes Barfoot’s writing unique?

4. “Everybody’s got a story … Experiences and trajectories ricochet off each other, they take slow curves and sharp turns, they wreak confusion here, salvation there and – this is the hardest thing – there’s no way to predict which detail or tiny decision may grow huge in its consequence.” Which details and tiny decisions grew huge for the main characters? What about in your own life?

5. Barfoot comments in an interview with The London Free Press: “It seems to me life essentially is luck. We do the best with what luck we have, but you are the beneficiary of a genetic crapshoot.“ Do you agree? Do you consider yourself lucky? How do you think luck plays out on a global scale?

6. How is luck balanced by choice throughout the narrative?

7. As the story begins, Nora, Beth and Sophie can be seen torepresent archetypes of art, beauty and virtue respectively. How do they become more ambiguous over the course of the novel? Do they each find what they’re seeking?

8. Barfoot’s writing is at once hilarious and harrowing. Which scenes in particular did you find darkly humorous?

9. What does the novel have to say about art – its power to transform and inspire, to enrage as well as heal? Would you hang any of Nora’s pieces above your sofa?

10. What does Luck reveal about fundamentalism?

11. “I’ll make tea.” Beth has been described as one of the creepiest characters in Canadian literature. How did you feel toward her? Did your feelings change as the novel progressed?

12. Sophie flees an obsession with death to find redemption in the arms of an undertaker. What role does Hendrik play in the novel?

13. Though Philip looms large in the minds of the main characters, the reader never gets too close to him. Why do think Barfoot chose to keep Philip largely silent?

14. Phil bends wood, Hendrik moulds flesh … How do the characters in Luck express themselves through the act of shaping – whether objects, situations or other people?

15. What techniques does Barfoot use to build suspense? Consider, for instance, the way in which the narrator drops key questions.

16. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Barfoot comments: “Deception is probably a basic tool for fiction, because we are always interested in what other people don’t know.” What role does deception play in Luck?

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Reading Group Guide

1. When Nora wakes up to find Philip dead, the narrator observes: “This is no way for a day to begin; nor, really, for anything else to begin…” And yet, death is a marvelous way for a novel to begin. Based on your reading of Luck, why does death function so effectively as a triggering event?

2. “Sometimes Sophie’s history manifests itself in strange ways; like an old wallpaper pattern under paint, it shows through in certain lights.” Discuss how the back-story of each of the main characters colours her reaction to Philip’s death.

3. Luck has been called a comedy of manners, a satire, a tragicomedy, a danse macabre and a chamber-piece. How would you characterize it? What in your view makes Barfoot’s writing unique?

4. “Everybody’s got a story … Experiences and trajectories ricochet off each other, they take slow curves and sharp turns, they wreak confusion here, salvation there and – this is the hardest thing – there’s no way to predict which detail or tiny decision may grow huge in its consequence.” Which details and tiny decisions grew huge for the main characters? What about in your own life?

5. Barfoot comments in an interview with The London Free Press: “It seems to me life essentially is luck. We do the best with what luck we have, but you are the beneficiary of a genetic crapshoot.“ Do you agree? Do you consider yourself lucky? How do you think luck plays out on a global scale?

6. How is luck balanced by choice throughout the narrative?

7. As the story begins, Nora, Beth and Sophie can be seen torepresent archetypes of art, beauty and virtue respectively. How do they become more ambiguous over the course of the novel? Do they each find what they’re seeking?

8. Barfoot’s writing is at once hilarious and harrowing. Which scenes in particular did you find darkly humorous?

9. What does the novel have to say about art – its power to transform and inspire, to enrage as well as heal? Would you hang any of Nora’s pieces above your sofa?

10. What does Luck reveal about fundamentalism?

11. “I’ll make tea.” Beth has been described as one of the creepiest characters in Canadian literature. How did you feel toward her? Did your feelings change as the novel progressed?

12. Sophie flees an obsession with death to find redemption in the arms of an undertaker. What role does Hendrik play in the novel?

13. Though Philip looms large in the minds of the main characters, the reader never gets too close to him. Why do think Barfoot chose to keep Philip largely silent?

14. Phil bends wood, Hendrik moulds flesh … How do the characters in Luck express themselves through the act of shaping – whether objects, situations or other people?

15. What techniques does Barfoot use to build suspense? Consider, for instance, the way in which the narrator drops key questions.

16. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Barfoot comments: “Deception is probably a basic tool for fiction, because we are always interested in what other people don’t know.” What role does deception play in Luck?

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