We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan
Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: January 14, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
When Hannah, Leslie, and Jimmy arrive at Fielding for the school’s MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) program they don’t know each other. Their backgrounds are wildly different as are the backgrounds of the 14 other people in their class. But in less than two weeks they’ll be bonded together in ways none of them could have imagined. They are the center of Caroline Zancan’s debut novel, We Wish You Luck.
Yes, this is a campus novel, but not of the normal variety. These students are graduate level and are from all age groups and demographics. They also vary widely in their talent and their desire to succeed. For some, it is a last shot at exploring creativity before heading back to the world of professions where you can actually earn a living. Then there are those who are truly gifted. Jimmy falls, not only into that category, but into the even more rarified space of poetry. And his is mind-bendingly good. So, it is a shock to all when, during a workshop, his writing is shredded, by one of the professors—a new, young bestselling author who seemed to be what many of them aspired to be. What follows are repercussions, consequences, and a spinning out of inspired revenge.
Zancan makes a bold choice in We Wish You Luck—she narrates the novel in the first-person plural. The majority of what transpires is related by the collective we, not Hannah, Leslie, or Jimmy. For the most part this works as it fills in the picture more completely. We learn of everything that happens between the friends as witnessed by others. It gives the feel of being a part of the story—we are the we. Except, as the novel progresses and the stakes grow higher it left me feeling removed. The sense of tension wanes because everything is secondhand. Especially with Hannah, who remains a mystery. I wanted to know what she was thinking and feeling, but could not unless she interacted with one of the group.
The good news is that this detached feeling is counterbalanced by the novel’s environment. Fielding’s MFA program is not typical. Students only live on campus during the school’s winter and summer breaks, meaning they’re the only ones on campus. They live on campus for ten days, doing the rest of their coursework from home. Those lives are not shared, just the ten days when they are at school, living in dorms, eating in a cafeteria. This creates a heightened sense of intimacy, like being on a movie set. It also colors events and actions with greater meaning. This, combined with what feels like a peek into the fascinating (to me!) and magical world of learning to write great fiction, made We Wish You Luck a solid start to my 2020 winter reading.
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