THE LUCKY ONES

The cover of Julianne Pachico’s The Lucky Ones calls the book “a tense and haunting jigsaw puzzle of a novel.” A jigsaw analogy is appropriate, but I think describing The Lucky Ones as “a literary synecdoche” is even more accurate. Synecdoche is an English professor-type rhetorical device that substitutes a part for the whole. For example, the Oval Office suggests the presidency, or the Pentagon might indicate the military overall. Thus The Lucky Ones is a novel comprised of jigsaw pieces, a table-top of squares, storied chapters that should fit together but somehow don’t quite match. When you finish reading the book, however, you clearly understand how all the disparate parts are substitutes for a satisfactory whole.

The finished picture, the completed puzzle, is a composite view of life in Colombia during the drug wars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Each chapter focuses on someone whose life was irrevocably touched by the guerrilla warfare, the violence, the political upheavals, the uncertainties of day-to-day life. Those encounters include little or no dialogue. Most of the narration takes place solely in someone’s consciousness or unconscious mind while he or she undergoes traumatic confrontations. At first, the mayhem and characters seem totally unrelated, but gradually a pattern appears. Everyone, somehow, is connected to a classroom and its students.

The Lucky Ones opens with an unlucky incident. A teenaged girl is left home for the weekend while her parents and her brother vacation in the mountains. The next day the servants have disappeared, and on subsequent days she hears nothing from her family. She suffers alone in her mansion, incapable of cooking, unable to fix the generator when it breaks, afraid to step outside. The next chapter reveals one of her teachers, unlucky too, a man now a captive in chains, noxiously poisoned by jungle bites and mumbling to himself, educating twigs and stones about Hamlet in a mad effort to keep his sanity. More stories follow, some featuring other students caught in the turmoil, others centering on those who escaped to America (only to find drugs there, too), still others about servants and parents, often survivors but in existences fraught with peril. Others are not so lucky, or are they luckier still?

The title itself indicates the irony of their plights. No one is lucky after all; lucky to be alive, yes, but not one of them finds his or herself in a fortunate situation. The Lucky Ones is not a comfortable book to read, but the overall impact of the synecdochic parts is impressive. Pachico captures twenty-five nightmarish years in a series of horrific vignettes that impart the overall chaos descending on each and every Colombian citizen between 1988 and 2013. Perhaps the innocent were the most afflicted of all? The Lucky Ones definitely is not a cozy bedtime read, but it is a novel well-worth perusing. Pachico’s pieces do indeed make a graphically complete thematic whole, as well as a very successful literary one.   –  Ann Ronald

The Lucky Ones is Julianne Pachico’s debut novel.

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