Published by Spiegel & Grau
Publication date: March 7th 2017
Covering a span from the early 1990s to present day, The Lucky Ones is a novel about Colombia that is as densely dark as that country’s rainforests. Like those forests the novel is home to a wide array of creatures ranging from the innocent to the dangerous; those that hide in the underbrush and those that can adapt quickly to the changing landscape. Who the lucky ones are is not clear because there doesn’t seem to be any good fortune for the people we meet. Even those who seem to have wealth and security are not immune to the country’s violent forces.
Author Julianne Pachico permeates The Lucky Ones with trepidation and disorientation by moving her characters without any pattern. Each chapter is another characters’ story. They are met as children, adults, teachers, parents, soldiers…and then appear later in another incarnation of their life. After only two chapters I was reminded of another novel that evoked the same kind of dissonance, Sara Taylor’s The Shore. The parallels between the two begin right away—the first chapter of both is profoundly unnerving and will grab you by the throat. In The Lucky Ones it is as simple as seventeen-year-old Stephanie not wanting to go with her family on a weekend trip. The tone is set when her mother tells her that she is not to answer the phone or the door nor in any way indicate they’re away. Over protective parent? Maybe, but soon enough the mother’s warning echoes in my pounding heart. This tension never dissipates.
Other chapters include the man who was Stephanie’s teacher—now a captive being held in the forest for five years. One of his captors is a former student. His girlfriend a drug trafficker’s daughter. Junkies in NYC were once protected, rich, little girls. There are only two fixed points in The Lucky Ones. One is the schools they all attended, even though from there Pachico flings them across time and into far-off places. The second constant is violence. Whether it is between children on the playground or the horrors of covert political warfare, the novel is replete with just how brutal humans can be to each other.
Again, The Lucky Ones is similar to The Shore; both lack a linear structure that will be problematic for some. I spent more time than usual trying to piece together character trajectories—to impose some order on their lives. But it may be that Pachico’s reason for the instability and fractured feel of the novel is to mirror the reality of life in modern day Colombia. If so, she succeeds. The prose and style of these stories are staccato beats that require attention to find the rhythm. It’s worth the effort because, once found, The Lucky Ones pulses with a painful force that won’t easily be forgotten.