BOOK REVIEW: The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico

As far as I can remember, the only other writer to appear twice in one volume of Best British Short Stories, edited by Nicholas Royle, is Hilary Mantel, whose stories ‘Winter Break’ and ‘Comma’ appeared in 2011. Pachico had two stories, ‘Lucky’ and ‘The Tourists’ in the 2015 anthology, so it is doubly testament to her precocious talents that she has that in common with Mantel and that Royle chose to include her twice. That I didn’t particularly take to those stories when I first read them has undoubtedly coloured this review.
Pachico doesn’t particularly do ‘setting’ as such, preferring place names and dates placed above the story. This meant that beyond learning the actual name of the place where the story was set, and the date in which it ostensibly happened I didn’t get enough sense of setting or place.
In these subtly interlinked stories we have a catalogue of aliens in adopted places, and Pachico has taken advantage of living in another country to give an English language depiction of a place that is perhaps less familiar to English readers. This probably helped in finding the stories a good publisher, because narrators from outside England automatically bring new voices into the publishing world, albeit mostly middle class.

Instead of the last clause of that previous sentence I could have used parentheses. But to my taste that would seem superfluous, which is why I found myself slightly irritated by Pachico’s regular use of parenthesis in sentences. For me they disrupt the flow of fiction.
There’s an untidiness of form here that seems common to the contemporary short story, a kind of backlash against the controlled efforts of the out of fashion Raymond Carvers of this world, or Edgar Allen Poe’s dictum of everything having a ‘unity of effect’, that principle subsumed to a preference for stories that have more similarities with novels than poetry. It is a kind of two fingers up to Hemingway’s theory of omission. Who reads Hemingway now anyway?

Nick Adams seems a sad anachronism, a privileged white voice consigned to the past. These stories are more in the smash and grab style of the Facebook generation where there is nothing left unsaid. I liked the unfinished jigsaw in ‘Honey Bunny’ but beyond that and ‘Junkie Rabbit’ I found little suggestive of metaphor.
‘Lucky’ is the best story in the book, an exercise in tension that reminded me of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. ‘Junkie Rabbit’ was my favourite, a pleasant change from the middle-class ennui prevalent in many short stories, a kind of Watership Down on crack. In the ‘Bird Thing’, aside from the kind of domestic details I’m resistant to, there was the use of second person narration, which I always find irritating, and to which I find myself thinking at the end of every sentence, no I don’t. Second person narration is not something you find in the works of the great story writers.
Pachico’s writing is generally accomplished, though there are a few commonplace similes such as ‘confetti thrown at a wedding’ which might be expected in a young writer’s first work, and which another editor might have taken out. The aspect of magic realism to her style is something that I hope she develops in fully achieving her voice as a writer. It seems to come out of Garcia Marquez, though I could be wrong.
The great strength of these stories is in the unfamiliarity of most of the locations, and the snippets of atmosphere detailed from each. I just wish there had been more sense of place to give me a grounding as a reader. For me the stories in themselves were a little baggy, but that seems to be the norm for readers and publishers who want their stories to be as close in form to novels as they can be, witness the success of the grand old woman of the short story, the admirable Alice Munro, whose stories have always seemed to me more like chapters from novels.

Julianne Pachico

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Julianne Pachico grew up in Cali, Colombia, and lived there until she was eighteen. She is currently completing a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in England. Her story “Honey Bunny” appeared in The New Yorker, and two of her stories have been anthologized in Best British Short Stories 2015.

 

The Lucky Ones is available from Faber & Faber here.

 

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Reviewed by Neil Campbell

 

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