Author: Patricia Wood
Published By: Berkley Books, 2007
Book Specs: 313 pages
Book Category: Fiction
A Basic Overview
This book tells the story of Perry L. Crandall. (His grandmother tells him the L stands for “Lucky.”) Perry has an IQ of 76 — but he’ll be the first to tell you that he “is not retarded.” However, much of the world treats his as such. Most of his family has abandoned him except for his grandparents, who raise him. After the death of his grandfather, Perry lives with his grandmother, who does her best to teach him ways to protect himself–spend half, save half; write things down; learn your words; and trust only certain people. Perry has a job and a good friend Keith, who accepts him as he is. He fancies a girl named Cherry who works at the local mini-mart. But things take a turn for the worse when his grandmother dies — leaving Perry to fend for himself. His family members swoop in and quickly ransack his life and essentially sell his home out from under him — leaving him on his own to cope. Only Keith and his boss are willing to help Perry rebuild his life, and his family abandons him again. Then one day, Perry wins $12 million in the Washington State Lottery. Suddenly, his family is back — circling like vultures. But his grandmother has taught him well, and Perry teaches them an important lesson: “Never underestimate Perry L. Crandall.”
I think writing a book from the perspective of a mentally challenged person is difficult. Besides telling the story, the author faces the additional challenge of being true to the narrator’s voice. I thought the author did a good job of balancing the childlike qualities inherent in Perry with the narrative elements needed to keep the story moving. For example, because Perry is treated as a simpleton by his family, they speak freely in front of him — allowing him to recount their conversations and reveal their plans to the reader without Perry understanding what is going on. This device is used throughout the book, and I thought it was effective.
In addition, having the grandmother teach Perry to write things down is another device that allows the author to reveal critical information to the reader. Perry often reads the journals of his life that his grandmother created for him — allowing the reader to get a glimpse of the family dynamics.
However, for the most part, the book is Perry’s account of his life before and after his grandmother’s death. As soon as he wins the lottery, I began feeling a sort of dread for him — knowing that his family would be brutal in their attempts to wrest control of the lottery winnings away from him. One of my only quibbles with the book is that I felt the family members were just a little too black and white (with the possible exception of David who was a bit on the gray side) in their greed and evilness. And the sympathetic characters — Keith, Cherry and Gary — are perhaps a bit too nice and good (although the author gives Keith some definite issues to deal with). However, these are relatively minor issues overall.
I liked the choices the author made in the book. I felt she stayed true to Perry’s character, and I was happy with the ways she chose to wrap up the story. The quote by Oscar Wilde that she uses at the start of the book — “Ordinary riches can be stolen: real riches cannot” — are perhaps the best summary of the basic message of this book. I think most readers will come away from this book feeling uplifted and satisfied.
About The Author
This was Patricia Wood’s first novel. She is a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii, focusing on education, disability, and diversity. Her work inspired this novel — as well as events in her life, including her father winning the Washington State Lottery. She lives with her husband on board a sailboat moored in Hawaii. (taken from the author’s bio)
I was interested to read that the author’s father had won the Washington State Lottery. This helped me to be more accepting of some of the details that happen when Perry wins the lottery, as I imagine many of them were taken from her father’s experiences. Also, it makes sense that she lives on a sailboat as Perry works in a marine supply store and Keith lives on a sailboat. I always enjoy seeing the connections between an author’s real life and their fiction. In addition, her son lives in Everett, Washington, which is the setting for the book.
Funny Little Side Note
The very day I started this book, I happened to get a comment on my post about book lights from Patricia Wood herself! Isn’t that funny? I didn’t make the connection until I visited her blog to thank her for her book light recommendation and read her day’s post, which was about Lottery being released in the U.K. and some funny photos of her cat. It was such a strange coincidence! I must say, I’ve never started a book and then been contacted by the author on the same day to provide me with advice on what kind of book light she finds worthwhile. Kind of gave me a thrill. If you are interested, her blog can be found at http://pkwood.blogspot.com.