Lucky You by Erika Carter (2017)
This debut novel by Erika Carter is a tricky one for me to rate and review because while I’m pretty sure I hated it, I also couldn’t put it down. Lucky You is a novel as compelling as your ex-friend’s diary, and, the further into it I got, the more it read like exactly that: a petty, sensationalistic diary written by someone (or, as the case may be, three someones) to whom very little actually happens. I read this book in about 24 hours, putting it down basically only to sleep and go to work, so perhaps my feverish pace lent something to my weird experience, but the more I think about it and discuss it with my friend Brittany (who raced through it pretty much the exact same timeframe as I did), the more sure I am in my original assessment. [DISCLAIMER: MINOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.]
Lucky You is a book about three young women—Rachel, Ellie, and Chloe—who, having failed to find jobs better than waitressing at a dive bar in their Arkansas college town, decide to join Rachel’s boyfriend Autry at his family’s cabin in the mountains for a year of living off the grid. They call it the Project, and Autry is convinced that they’ll be able to write a bestselling, movie-inspiring book about their experiences, but it quickly becomes apparent that not a one of them has any sort of aptitude for actually finishing (or starting) what they plan to much less thriving off-grid. They rely for the basic necessities on a local named Ran (actually my favorite character in the book) who helps them out with groceries in between trips into town to sell his homemade lip balm to hipsters and a Walmart executive named Michael, a married man with whom Ellie has been having an increasingly bizarre affair.
The men in this book are, with the almost-exception of Ran, generally disgusting people. But so are the women who stay with these men, cling to them, allow them literally write books about how they should be living their lives. Rachel, Ellie, and Chloe are all in their mid-twenties, but they behave and reason more like teenagers. They trade men and justify their betrayals with Facebook meme clichés, romanticize their various addictions while mercilessly picking apart the choices of their friends, lie about voting while pedantically lecturing others on the importance of honest and healthy living, and make mistake after mistake but can’t seem to recognize that that is what they are doing.
My biggest complaint about this book is that it bordered on misogynistic. The women are women but they act like girls in a fashion they seem to find darkly ironic, the best part about their lives. Often their efforts to buoy each other and themselves are mere lip service to the notion of empowerment, but even when they do take small, active steps toward freeing themselves and gaining a measure of autonomy over their lives, they trip themselves up, convince themselves that that’s not what they wanted anyway. There’s a fair amount of underplayed sexual violence in this book but it’s always portrayed as being emblematic of who these characters are as people. (For example, AND THIS IS A TEENY SPOILER FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK, Ellie is more or less gang raped after walking home alone [and I say “more or less” because the details are a bit unclear], wasted, from a bar and being accosted by a group of men who escort her home and have sex with her while she’s blacked out. This scene is used to illustrate Ellie’s breaking point with her deadbeat boyfriend, Jim, who’s never home to give her the attention she feels she deserves, and the effects of this event are hardly mentioned again after this point about her relationship has been made. We read about this rape to learn that Ellie is just the sort of person who does regrettable things with men to make herself feel better.) Propensity for sexual violence as character aspect is not a super feminist worldview in my book.
Essentially, the women’s plays toward power are treated with all the dignity and nuance of the set-up of a crass joke, and the punchline to their existence is that the novel’s title, Lucky You, doesn’t really apply to them. If this book is meant to be an exploration of how Millennials are coping with coming of age in these dark and scary times, it does a poor job of executing that vision. This book seemed like a parody of something, some dark satire that forgot what it was all about somewhere along the line. The writing is solid enough, though heavy on the clichés, but the characters are caricatures and the plot could have been culled from a Gen-Xer’s haze of hasty assumptions about young people and the Environmentalist movement. I raced through this book because I loved watching the train wreck, but now that it’s over, I feel the same sense of distaste and regret at wasted time as if I really had just read someone else’s diary, disappointed because I didn’t learn anything interesting about myself or useful about the world. 2.5/5.