Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lottery - Second Discussion in our Book Club Blog

Over the last few days, we’ve been having a rousing discussion on the book, Lottery, concentrating especially on the themes of society’s views of monetary and mental success. Of course, like most book club blog discussions, the comments have taken different paths from the ones started in the blog post, but that’s just the way I like it – it’s been a joy to have so much participation and so many thoughts exchanged. It’s been especially fun to have Lottery author, Patricia Wood participating to both add her own insights into the story and its creation and to address questions and comments from her readers.

If you haven’t seen the original post yet, check the first link above to look around. I will repeat the same disclaimer here – this is a book discussion, which means there will be spoilers to the novel. If you haven’t read it yet, and reading the discussion might ruin your enjoyment of the novel, I really recommend picking up a copy – it is a great book and one you don’t want to miss.

Today I’d like to discuss the themes of love and loyalty and how they are addressed through the eyes of Perry Crandall. One of the aspects of the novel I so enjoyed was its treatment of these themes, and the way that Perry comes to ‘pick’ his family. What I mean to say here is, outside of his grandparents, Perry’s birth family does not have his best interest at heart. They have little to do with him at all throughout his life, unless it is to cheat him out of something. And, while Perry’s gullibility leads him to give these blood relations more than their due, the family he really cares for are the ones who are of his own choosing.

Keith is a great character because he is both flawed and noble. Perry picks Keith as his best friend, but really it is so much more than that. And perhaps this relationship has as much to do with Keith picking Perry. The thing I adore in their relationship is that Keith is so lost himself, so much of what he’s become, and let himself become, is lower than his potential. So we have this guy who drinks too much, swears too much, is a bit less than respectful about the female form, and has essentially given all of his dreams away because his heartache at losing his family and surviving the war makes him unwilling to try. Then you have Perry, whose mental ability is limited through no fault of his own and society is constantly telling him that he can’t - yet Perry does nothing but try. He tries his hardest no matter what job he’s working on and he takes pride in his accomplishment, but more than that, he takes pride in his contribution...

So these two characters, to me, balance each other out. Keith watches over and looks out for Perry in a way he wouldn’t even look out for himself, and Perry gives Keith a family; one he didn’t even know he still wanted...

Themes of family run heavy in this novel and I also love our small interactions with Gary’s family. They, too, become a family for Perry and, by extension Keith and Cherry.

Cherry is probably the character you’ve all been waiting for me to address because I think there are likely some differing views on Perry’s relationship with Cherry, before and after Keith’s passing... All I can do is offer my own sensibilities, though I’d love to hear everyone else’s too. I thought Perry’s crush on Cherry throughout made him a fuller and more concrete character. It was one more thing that smacked of reality and gave me something to both identify with and feel for him over. I loved Keith and Cherry together, I thought they brought something to each other that was sorely missing from each of their lives before... though, I have to admit, Cherry’s age and family situation made me wonder somewhat whether it was fair for Keith to get involved physically at that point in her life... I didn’t read it as Keith taking advantage or even thinking about taking advantage – I read his feelings as genuine. But my personal perception can’t help but come into play in a book that pulls me so far in, and at the point where they were obviously serious, my thoughts were that it was a bad idea. My thoughts were that when Cherry grew more mature and had some distance from her abusive father, and became more of her own person, she might realize that her love for Keith was more of that as a little girl looking for a protector, and not a true partner and equal... None of this discounts my love for the book. On the contrary, I think when you go that far into psychoanalyzing characters; the writing must have made them astoundingly real.

Cherry’s relationship with Perry after Keith’s passing. I have to say, it’s not the ending I would have chosen (mighty disclaimer – it’s the author’s right to choose, and I don’t like a lot of what real life dishes out, either... it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the novel, obviously), not because I wanted Perry to live a celibate alone life, but because Cherry so obviously settled for Perry because Keith was not there. I wanted Perry to have a wife that adored him, first and foremost, and I almost felt like they wound up together because of an odd turn of events rather than a true romantic connection. I was happy that Perry was happy and I was happy to see him involved with both Cherry and Keith’s baby. I adored seeing Perry get his puppy and be a father and businessman. But that is, of course, my own sensibility. Now I’d love to hear yours....


Family Fun & Faith said...

Like you, Merry, I had some ambivalence about the development of the intimacy of Cherry and the, in my mind, much older Keith. But I think she turned out to be my favorite character in the book. Her overcoming the trauma of her early life and finding and giving acceptance was satisfying to me. And her continuing to love Keith while continuing to live and build what appears to me to be a genuine relationship with Perry is a realistic situation. My mom died at 56, my dad still loves her, though he as now been married to my step mom for over twenty years.

Perry's childlike innocence is so attractive when it is encountered in real life. Most often we only see it in children, but he was not cheated in the relationship, because it was his perception of it that really mattered. His selflessness is how we all ought to approach our marital relations. in my humble opinion.

ORION said...

As a teacher in a high risk high school I saw several "cherrys" who survived abuse and poverty and opted to be with a much older man. We have several elderly men here in the marina who "sent away" for young brides from other countries. The may-december relationship is one that is interesting in that it is somewhat of a social construct. Many cultures do not place as much judgement on age that we in the US do. I know a young man like Perry who desperately wants a girlfriend and his mother has to intervene as he jumps to the conclusion that if someone is nice to him it means she likes him as a boyfriend. It is heartbreaking.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi FF&F,

And thank you for the great insight... I love your take on this, that "His selflessness is how we all ought to approach our marital relations."

And of course, finding love after the death of a spouse is a wonderful thing and doesn't negate the feelings for the departed. Maybe this just struck me that way because of the length of time in between or the obvious mourning they were going through, but then again, it's very human to become romantically involved with those who share those deep moments with you.

Hi Patricia,

I do think we have a different perception of age differences, even more so today than the generation before us.. I think, for me, cherry and Keith developing a relationship was not at all a negative, it was more of my thinking that, given her circumstances, she might not be as ready as she thinks she is... again, I think this only serves to show what wonderful characters you've created - that a reader would second guess their decisions rather than know exactly where they are going.

Gay said...

I loved that Cherry fell in love with Perry. I didn't see it as "settling" at all... because it wasn't immediate. Perry was in love with her, sure. But he also didn't expect the relationship to become physical. His good-natured soul was perfectly willing to go on loving her, and to care for Keith's baby, in the platonic, living under the same roof, relationship that he'd had when Keith was alive. He demanded nothing, expected nothing, and no one was more surprised than Perry when Cherry made the advance towards him.

She didn't have to, and Perry, I believe, would graciously have accepted it if Cherry had turned her affections towards other men. He was that sort of a loving man himself. I like to think that over time, Cherry came to see Perry for what he was, and that she saw past his disability. She didn't settle. She just lost the blindness that his disability had induced, and fell in love with the man that had been there for her all the time.

So to me, the ending was perfect. Perry got what he deserved, and so did Cherry.

I, also, didn't question Cherry's relationship with Keith. She was hurting and in need of love, and she turned towards a father figure in order to get it... that is natural. There is nothing wrong with May/December romances when the man does not hold a position of power over the woman, and there's nothing wrong with a woman falling in love at a tender age, even if she's just been through a crisis in her life. Keith treated Cherry very, very well--and that, to me, is the ultimate yardstick. For all his cursing and drinking, he was a fine human being.

Listen to me, discussing the characters as if they lived next door. That's a tribute to Pat for making them jump off the page and into my life. What a great book!

Stephen Parrish said...

Looking through Perry's eyes at Cherry, I saw a bit of Jenny in "Forrest Gump" and a bit of Dulcinea in Man of La Mancha. I wonder if Pat was directly influenced by either of these two characters.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Gay,

Thanks for stopping in and for, so elegantly, furthering the discussion with your perception of the novel. That's probably the best testament to good fiction, that we talk about these characters as if they were people we knew rather than characters on the page.

Hi Stephen,

You know, I get the Jenny reference and I think we would automatically go there, because of the obvious similiarities between Forrest and Perry. Though, I have to say, the Dulcinea comparison never even occurred to me - I haven't read Cervantes in quite a long time, but I'd love to see where you pulled the reference from... I'm going to see if I can find my copy to compare and contrast... if you want to jump in give me an overview of why that character jumped out in resemblence to Cherry, I think that would lead to a fabulous discussion.

I know Patricia said earlier that she'd pulled some pieces of her characters from kids that she taught, but I would love to see if there's a conscious inspiration from literary or other media characters, too.

Sun Singer said...

Perry and Cherry ending up together seemed to me a natural outgrowth of the earlier chapters as thought, after various side trips and periods of growth, their marriage was meant to happen. They both grew in the book and so did their relationship.


ORION said...

Stephen makes an interesting point. You know the whole time I was writing I wasn't considering either of those characters. In fact because of the fantastical nature of forrest gump and the fact although he was called slow he was a savant (keep in mind the book and the movie bear so little relationship to each other they could be completely different entities) I didn't have that in mind at all when I wrote.
It was after the book was finished and the agent Dan Lazar requested the full (and ultimately passed) and said it was too "Forrest Gumpish" for him that I used "Forrest Gump wins powerball" as a pitch -- I realized comparisons would be made but felt it was better to face them head on.
I wonder how much I was influenced sub consciously? It's hard to tell. In reality - I think I'm more influenced by the works of John Irving.
I know I wanted Perry to have cognitive challenges and to have a base in reality. And yes his characteristics are drawn from my classroom- The hungry student who gives his lunch away to another hungrier student- The one who has unrequited love. The one who is teased and abused.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Malcolm,

Thanks for the input, and yes, I think many if not most readers feel the same way - like I said, I think my main reservation there is that I'm overanylizing the characters... which really only comes with well drawn fiction.


You know, I wondered whether it was the book or movie for Forrest Gump or the musical or novel for Don Quixote... I must admit, I never read Forrest Gump, it's one of those I always meant to get to - so my comparison is from the movie to Lottery... and other than the fact that Jenny and Cherry both became romantically involved with the main characters, I don't see much similiarity between the two women... though I think they would be easily referenced that way because of the comparison between the two stories.

But then, the simple choice to have a romantic attachment would have led to the same comparison, and you can't base your choices for your characters on how they will be compared to other works. In essence, every story has already been told - the artform is in the way that you tell it, the choices you make and the twists you give to the plot, but most essentially the voice.

Stephen Parrish said...

I realized comparisons would be made but felt it was better to face them head on.

I said in my Amazon review that "Comparisons to Forrest Gump are inevitable," and they are. But Perry is plenty original enough; I hope you aren't being criticized on this point. Dan Lazar read my full and turned it down too; Judgement Day awaits him.

Perry is a fresh take on the unreliable narrator. Think about it.

I wanted this book in a hurry so I asked my critique partner (who lives in the States) to send it to me. In a subsequent email he wrote, "It's on its way. I read it before mailing it. It's good."

It's good. Coming from him, that's gushing. He said something else that struck me; he said, "I hope she doesn't write a sequel."

ORION said...

Oh Stephen i had to laugh. I have really been pestered by reading groups ALL over the country (I've done about 25 via speaker phone) to at least CONSIDER doing a sequel. Sometimes I think it's possible...I don't know I have so many other ideas and manuscripts I'm working on...
wow tell your friend thanks...
BTW the dog was my editors idea LOL I had Perry wanting a dog the whole book and never letting him have one and one of her LAST comments in her final editorial letter was "Can you give him a dog? PLEASE???!!! I REALLY want him to have his dog!"
I thought long and hard and then realized of course and knew just where to add it and who would give it to him...

Sustenance Scout said...

Pat, does it surprise you how many men are reading and loving this book? I'd assumed it would be considered a "women's novel" but am so happy to realize it's being read widely by men, as well.

Cherry and Keith: I loved that they got together. I'll always think of this book when I hear or hum Diamond Girl (as I am at the moment!); the scene of them dancing outside in the moonlight is one of my favorites.

Cherry and Perry: Sweet. It all works. But I have to agree with Stephen's friend: I hope you don't write a sequel (though I know I'd read it if you did!); I love all your characters as you left them. K.

ORION said...

I actually never wrote LOTTERY specifically for women but thought it would not necessarily appeal to men (I don't know why) I have been surprised at the number of men who felt compelled to email me and tell me how much they enjoyed LOTTERY. That was so gratifying as an author.
yes one of my favorite scenes to write was that one and I cried because i could feel Perry's hurt as he realized that Cherry loved Keith-

Sustenance Scout said...

Pat, I know when I'm bawling at the keyboard that I'm doing something right, lol! I definitely felt Perry's pain but at the same time I was so happy for Cherry and Keith; what a terrific scene, I just loved it. K.

Mary Witzl said...

I dare not look too closely at these comments because I haven't read the book yet! I will have to now; from what I did read, it sounds great.

Sun Singer said...


I wanted you to know that I posted a slightly longer version of my Amazon review of your book on the book review page of my websit at:

This book discussion is mentioned in the book notes on the lower right portion of the page.


Merry Jelinek said...

Hi all,

I wanted to thank you all for such great participation and discussion - this has been a lot of fun for me.

The final post is up if you'd like to stop by.

Shelly said...

When reading, I could see both the Cherry-Keith and Cherry-Perry relationships coming. I was glad both turned out to be mutually nurturing relationships, rather than the one (perceived as) having the upper hand taking advantage of the other. I do love Per's attitude about the notion of "advantage" in the novel, and for me, that sets the tone for both of these relationships. Could Keith have taken advantage of Cherry? Sure. But it's already been established in the book (in his relationship with Per) that he isn't a man who takes advantage. Could Cherry have taken advantage of Per? Again, sure. But we've been watching her grow up too, and I think we know she isn't going to.

That's exactly where I found a difference between Jenny (of the film) and Cherry. Jenny, in the Forrest Gump film, is always out for what is best for Jenny. (At least until her son comes along.) There seems to be much more to Cherry than this, and I like that.

I hope there's not a sequel too. I think it would be difficult to capture the magic in a continued tale of Perry and Cherry. A spin-off with the dog as the main character might work though. ;-)