The Lucky Ones’ by Julianne Pachico is described as a novel by its US publishers whereas it has been billed as a collection of interlinked short stories in the UK where it has recently been shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. I approached ‘The Lucky Ones’ as a collection of short stories when reading it for the shadow panel discussions earlier this month but I think it can be read and enjoyed equally as a novel too, albeit a relatively fragmented one.
As well as the structure, the content of the 11 stories here is similarly ambiguous and constantly surprising. Set predominantly in Colombia where Pachico grew up and spanning from 1993 to 2013, the collection raises questions about who we might consider to be the “lucky ones” in the long and violent conflict that has caused so much devastation in the country for so long. While the impact of the civil war and drug trade form a significant part of the surface backdrop to the collection, Pachico’s stories go beyond the obvious scenarios one might expect from a typical South American setting, showing that there is more to Colombia and its citizens than cocaine and guerrilla warfare. On some occasions, the hallucinatory tone can make the stories in ‘The Lucky Ones’ hard to pin down – none more so than the mind-boggling ‘Junkie Rabbit’ – but it also makes the collection as a whole very satisfying to read, especially when the connections between the characters, settings, motifs and themes begin to emerge.
The opening story ‘Lucky’ sees teenager Stephanie Lansky left alone by the family’s housekeeper while a man waits outside the door and refuses to leave. Five years later, in ‘Lemon Pie’, Stephanie’s former teacher at the American school in Cali is being held captive in the jungle and gives lectures on ‘Hamlet’ to a collection of twigs and rocks when his sanity levels appear to reach an all time low. ‘Honey Bunny’ sees another one of his former pupils living as an expat in New York dealing drugs to hipsters while ‘The Tourists’ is set at a lavish party which is being observed from a distance by FARC guerilla fighters.
‘The Lucky Ones’ is in many ways reminiscent of The Shore by Sara Taylor – another collection of interlinked short stories which was coincidentally shortlisted for the same literary prize two years ago – both of which draw on the evocative settings of the authors’ childhoods and are helped rather than hindered by unconventional and non-linear structures. Pachico’s writing exhibits a surreal power and I’m looking forward to reading what she writes next.