Book review: ‘Lottery’ is chock full of stereotypes
Vail, CO, Colorado
Those who play the lottery dream of being millionaires, dream of lives devoid of worry, of happiness and luxury. Not Perry Crandall. For better or worse, Perry does not have dreams like these, he dreams of Hershey’s Kisses and a t-shirt with his name on it.
Perry, the slow (read: slightly mentally challenged) protagonist of this story doesn’t worry about much. He has a Grandma who raised him whom he loves and who has been looking out for him all his life. He has a best friend, Keith, who looks him in the eye, who drinks too much and swears and farts around him. He has a good job where only some of his co-workers mock him. Oh, and he has an IQ of 76 (one point higher than society’s technical definition of mentally retarded). Perry also has no idea how his life is going to change when he ends up winning the lottery.
Patricia Wood has done something wholly unremarkable in Lottery, she has taken age-old stereotypes, put them up against her formal training in education (focusing on disability and diversity) and a character named Perry, and written a book which tries to be a testament to just how smart slow people can be. Wood has taken what she knows (she has a developmentally disabled ex-brother-in-law) and written a sugary-sweet, and at times nauseatingly naïve, novel about what’s really important in life.
Perry is slow. Keith is overprotective, yet treats him as an equal, and his family is a bunch of vultures. And Wood spends the entire novel trying to teach the reader that while he may be slow, he still understands what is going on and has a better grasp as to what is truly important in life. Unfortunately, Wood also keeps it fairly realistic, and “Per,” as Keith calls him, just doesn’t seem to understand anything that isn’t related to boats or dictionary definitions. As a result, the protagonist of the story is lovingly oblivious to what is really going on ” he’s consistently confused about the meaning behind the words he hears as an ‘auditor,’ and, unfortunately, a smidge hard to take seriously as someone who actually understands everything he thinks he does.
It is Wood’s inability to be more honest about Perry’s situation that makes this novel hard to take seriously. Perry and Keith are lovable characters, yet they are also staggeringly stereotypical. Perry thinks a girl who talks to him at the convenience store is his girlfriend and he even references the Beatles’ “Life Goes On” (too much ’80s television, anyone?). Keith is a Vietnam vet who shudders and weeps during fireworks and will fight anyone who treats his friends unjustly. It is writing such as this that blurs an otherwise beautiful message, the only real worthwhile aspect of Wood’s novel.
In a world filled with people who would kill to have more money, Wood successfully conveys one amazing message, one that certainly rings true with anyone who has ever worked, lived with, been related to, or even known someone who is either developmentally disabled or slow. Money is not what is important in life.
Helping others’ dreams come true is the most true and beautiful thing a human being can do, and Perry is the one who realizes this. By the end of Lottery you will feel a strong admiration and respect for Perry ” he is strong when others are weak, he listens when others only talk, he is self-less when others are selfish. The only thing that Wood, and Perry himself, refuse to do is just admit a very clear fact, that what they call “slow” is a challenge. It is not necessary to act as if it is a privilege, or a badge of honor. It is Keith’s alcoholism, it is Cherry’s abusive father, it is Louise’s failed marriage, it is whatever it is we all have to deal with in life, and it needs to be taken for what it is. Only then can you truly appreciate just how much you can admire a man like Perry. And only then can you truly understand that being fast doesn’t always mean being right.
Andrew Fersch writes weekly book reviews for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this review to firstname.lastname@example.org. This book is available for purchase at the Bookworm in Edwards.