Joan Barfoot’s novel Luck begins by saying “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.” You could also say in Luck there are good sections, and there are unnecessary sections, and, well, you get the idea.
Luck opens with Nora Lawrence waking up and and rolling over to find her husband dead. We are told that Philip’s death is an example of ambiguous luck; he was unlucky to die early at 46, but lucky to die peacefully in his sleep. Nora’s scream brings the other two people of the house running into the room–Beth, Nora’s model (Nora is an artist), and Sophie, the housekeeper. Luck follows the rest of that day and the two days after Philip’s death.
While the premise is intriguing enough, Luck loses sight of its major themes about halfway and ultimately ends up outsmarting itself.
The title might lead some foolish people to believe the book deals largely with the idea of luck, but it’s much more about secrets. The major theme seems to be: “Half the point of secrets is to avoid trouble. The other half is… something else.” While this notion certainly verges on cleverness, Barfoot goes on to reveal the major secrets of all three characters. We learn why Nora has notoriety within the community, what terrible things Sophie saw while volunteering in a third-world country and the horrifying thing that beauty pageants drove Beth to do in her teens. While not uninteresting or badly executed, revealing every last detail about the characters goes against what Barfoot set up as, well, the point.
More information about the characters is revealed to the reader than each other, but the major theme still ends up feeling compromised. The sense of innuendo was the interesting element to the characterization, and not witholding anything from the reader leaves it empty. As interesting as the secrets are, none of them are as compelling as scenes that take place in the present tense, like Beth trying to seduce Nora the day her husband dies, or Sophie’s visit with Philip’s corpse in the funeral home’s preparation room.
As its tagline suggests, Luck is dark and, at times, witty, but it ultimately falls short. Most of the characters are unsympathetic and readers aren’t left wondering if they will have good luck or bad luck, as they apparently should be. Some would suggest that Luck is a four-leafed clover, but upon reading, it just turns out to be a murderous little Irishman guarding a stack of pennies. Better luck next time.