Book Review: So Lucky (Nicola Griffith)
Reviewed by Sean Mahoney
During the writing of this review, after again reading So Lucky ‐ a slim novel of 192 pages – I was overcome by a certain whimsy, a nuanced aire of familiarity and fear, of a rehashing of the subtle dread any person who is newly diagnosed with anything can attest to.
I kept my head level. I knew why I was doing what I was doing. And that is more than enough.
And it's hard to review a book like So Lucky when one is reading along and then this or that sentence causes your toes to curl, your heart to pause once again or your fists to ball unconsciously because you still feel as though those first few years after the Dx could have been handled much more professionally by the medical community. And when you step back, and gaze back, you're still pissed off but comforted knowing that those who stood with you then stand with you now.And that you were spot-on when it came to oddities of the medical community, and even the abled.
So Lucky is witty and that is always welcome. So Lucky is not a comedy. And while there are similarities between protagonist Mara and writer Nicola Griffith – both have been Dx'd with MS, both train in martial arts – So Lucky is not memoir nor autobiography. Let's be clear about that. So Lucky is the constant pulse over never quite being sure what, if anything, is going to happen to oneself because of disease, damn disease. And more importantly, what one chooses to do with oneself after diagnosis…because there are always options.
New conversations with body parts we had little to no reason addressing before being diagnosed. There are the altercations, physical and psychological, wearing on our narrator Mara's brittle resolve and struggle with the transition from abled to crip: with admininistrative people, lovers, spouses, friends, and strangers. Internally. Like a recurring drum n' bass beat: relentless and brutal at times. Even fear. For how can one be expected to embrace the notion of taking it all in just one day at a time when one now has no frame of reference from which to balance…balance having long ago left the facility…or the faculties even…synapses firing in empty rooms…
What if I said something shitty and irrevocably impaired our rapport, our relatively new acquaintanceship. And if I did would it be because her experience shares features with my own and she expresses herself better than I express my rage or bemusement at the comedy of it all, of the whole systemic, literal body politic? Nicola does what she does so deftly. There is both the Kim Novak / Bell, Book and Candle subtle enchantment of the carrier story ‐ being newly diagnosed ‐and also the too comfortable for words painless suction, the furious cry of the normalcy all the while the seat upon which you sit gradually subsides and pulls you under itself into an ether. It isn't all fits and starts and promises. It is not that way in real life. In real life we handle the very things we grapple with because something has to give. This is not meant to inspire but rather evoke, more than anything I think, just how thin the veil, how slight the internal seismic shift; one simple rearrangement of chromosomes, one internal irregular fluctuation and one is…a person with MS. Just not a victim, not a sufferer.
But the humor is there throughout, a sometime smirk locked arm in arm with all of the story occupants. And maybe that is a marker of sorts, an informal pop inscribing comedic arcs into what otherwise would prove to be just common everyday interactions with people and institutions and floors…the things we take for granted daily. And even new conversations with body parts we had little to no reason addressing before being diagnosed.There is even fear. But it's odd in the end just how fragile the ‘outside' world truly is, how it looks from this side. Mara learns and she helps herself.She acts.Yes we can ask for ramps and sloped sidewalks and proper restaurant entrances but this country cannot seem to get a damn thing done regardless of who is asking…So…
…I reached out to Nicola and asked the following:
SeanDid you find the process difficult in that you had to essentially relive the craziness of Dx and subsequent aftermath? Did you find the process cathartic?
No, not difficult. And no, not cathartic. Translating my diagnosis in 1993 to Mara's in 2018 was more of an intellectual challenge: working out how 25 years of technological change might have an impact on the process, and how a different person might have a different emotional response. I'm not like Mara, and I was diagnosed 26 years ago; it's old news--about as interesting to me as coming out. What does still interest me, though, is ableism and the sheer intractability of implicit bias against crips. (Did you read my NYT piece?) But even though wasn't hard. Should it have been? I've no idea. But it wasn't. My main driver was to get the story told, get it out there, start to counter-programme the bias. If I hadn't been wanting/needing to do that, I may never have written the story.
Have you toured the book at all? What sort of response have you been receiving?
NicolaYes, I've toured the book but, at my request, only locally. (Bellingham to Portland, with many stops all over Western Washington). Response has been good, though not nearly the tsunami that accompanied HILD. But many people haven't heard of the book, or if they have think it's going to be a kind of misery memoir. Which of course it's not. a) not miserable and b) not memoir. But that's what the reading public has been conditioned to read in terms of disability lit; that's what they expect; that's what they 'see'.
Would I recommend So Lucky? Of course I would, and do, for the curious and the lit-minded folk whose lymph nodes drop when wrapped up in page turner of a polished story. Are there elephants in rooms? Stalkers? Non-profits? Alcohol? Sex? Tiny steps? Blood? Ableism? Yes to all. NG has committed a grand service not just for the dis-lit community but for the non-disabled, the abled and the thick of head and heart by amplifying So Lucky with so much that is at once familiar and familial.
But this is after all a book review so let's find something to nag about shall we? Hmmm…after much thought and careful consideration I have decided that far too many italicized words exist in the text. So many in fact that Nicola Griffith may as well have…may as well have…but then I recall that one of those wretched, italicized words those…one of those words ‐lability ‐appears early on in the story arc and is still and will continue to be one word, italicized or not, I am very fond of …so there So Lucky.
Title: So Lucky