"My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded."
So begins this debut novel I've just read that's best described as wonderfully quirky. It's called Lottery by Patricia Wood and it unfurls in a town by the sea in Washington State with a quick jaunt on vacation to Hawaii with his friend Keith and, oh, his grandmother's ashes.
As the title suggests, the plot revolves around the protagonist--who's slow but innocently smart--winning twelve million dollars in the state lottery. Of course, once the press reports the winner, out of the woodwork come a flood of letters pleading for help. There's also his avaricious family to contend with, including two brothers, their grasping wives and a mother who's abandoned him. Brought up by his hardy grandmother who's knowledgeable in seafaring and has home-schooled Perry, he's able to hold down a job at Holstead's and is remarkably skilled at coming up with new business ideas which flourish, much to the delight of his boss, Gary.
When his Grandmother dies, the fun begins pre his winning the Lottery when his family--whom he refers to as his brother-cousins--swoop down and make him sign the house she's left to Perry over to them. Matters escalate after the Lottery win, though Perry has Keith and his boss looking out for him as best they can.
An enjoyable, compelling first novel and a wonderful stocking filler.
And here's a Christmas/Holiday bonus--an interview with the author.
DMN: You decided to make Perry, a young man with learning disabilities, your protagonist which was intriguing. What inspired you to do this?
PW: I have taught for many years and my PhD work was in disability and diversity and my brother in law had severe Down syndrome. I saw how people who are perceived as different are marginalized by our society. I purposely didn’t label Perry- yes he has cognitive challenges- yes he is slow and yes there are many things he doesn’t understand. He sees the world differently and I felt that would make an interesting and challenging character. Both one who was limited in terms of understanding yet astute in his observations.
DMN: His personality is well developed as the book advances and we do care very much about him, especially when we see how callous his family behave. Have you had experience working with people with learning disabilities or did you base the character primarily on research?
PW: While as I said before I do have experiences in these areas, essentially Perry came straight out of my imagination. In my work I did see students living with aunts and uncles, with grandparents, with friends and while generally people think it’s exaggerated for fiction’s sake, it really is how it happens to many children- especially to young adults who have special needs but who are able for one reason or another to live on their own. If you want to see how society still treats these people -- go to Good Will Industries and watch what happens to them when they get off work. There are still many unkind people in this world and it isn’t just confined to the school playground.
DMN: Much of the novel takes place around the world of sailing and it is clear the protagonist is extremely proficient in that world. I know you own a yacht. Have you always been interested in sailing?
PW: When you talk about me owning a yacht it sounds quite luxurious but I assure you the reality is far more pedestrian! I have lived by the sea most of my life and love it- and my husband has always been an avid sailor. Our 48-foot ketch ORION is quite ordinary by sailboat standards. We do most of the work ourselves. It’s our home and we live aboard which is a life style decision. It?s small and quite energy efficient. There’s something freeing about an unconventional living space that enhances creativity- ORION is where we live. She is our home. It was a natural extension of that to have Perry a sailor as well. It is an endeavor that rewards feel rather than intelligence. To be able to sense and feel the way the wind blows is unique and does not depend on ‘smartness.’
DMN: Perry's mother is a very unsympathetic character even though we do not get to know her in the book. Did you deliberately choose to have her absent and, if so, why?
PW: This is a little known reality in the world of special needs children- having both a mother and father is a luxury. Mothers and fathers - through divorce and poverty do abandon even normally abled children. Many of my students lived with their grandparents. I’m of the generation where we often have our children’s children AND have to take care of our own parents. I know those who reject this scenario and leave- It happens all the time. Oftentimes we chose not to see it.
With respect to the characterization, since my narrator is both unreliable AND cognitively challenged he sees many things in black and white- those people who he doesn’t have much to do with are sketchily drawn because Perry doesn’t do much conjecturing about what they’re really like or their motivations. I had to be true to this. I also wanted to give the book the feeling of a parable where good and evil are more distinct and there are fewer shades of gray.
DMN: I read you have gone to book signings by sea as well as land. Do you set up your signing schedule so you can sail from Hawaii?
PW: No not at all lol! It’s very difficult to make long passages like that. My home stays moored at the dock unless we do a short day or weekend sail. But I have done book clubs aboard boats and that has been great fun. Book clubs to me are a huge bonus. I enjoy interacting with readers and discussing aspects of my novel.
When groups contact me I can usually be present by speaker phone and sometimes ichat or SKYPE.
DMN: Do you write every day?
PW: Yes. I may not write on my current work in progress but I do write every day. I have several novels at various points in the editing process and tend to write a horribly disjointed first draft to get my ideas down and then spend copious amounts of time revising and rewriting.
DMN: What's coming next?
PW: A coming of age story about impossible dreams with an unusual narrator that’s set in the 1980’s.
Thanks Patricia, and good luck.