A series of offbeat but polished tales set in Colombia and New York City, Julianne Pachico’s debut short-story collection The Lucky Ones, takes as its impetus the subject of luck, and its division amongst humanity. The seemingly clear-cut distribution of luck in the opening pages is quickly brought into question however, with Pachico often considering individuals’ rising and falling fortunes in an environment of political tumult. Her stories identify the precise moment of changing fortunes, observing infinitesimal shifts with seismic repercussions. Although eleven distinct tales, the stories merge to form overarching and organic narratives which span the whole collection, and offer a pleasing continuity to the reader usually frustrated by the confines of the short-story form.
Importantly, the first voice with which readers are confronted is that of a child left alone for the weekend, whose vulnerability and naivety in trying to broach the adult world mirrors absolutely readers trying to broach Pachico’s vivid and unfamiliar world. In testimony to the all-encompassing environment of the tales, Lucky offers general effect of mood and circumstance, but interspersed with vivid moments of intense poignancy. A standout moment is Stephanie’s imagined conversation with forgotten school friends, which sublimely captures both the nostalgia of the past, and that childhood innocence that believes all friendships will endure forever. Indeed, assumptions, hints at a wider framework of events never fully divulged, do not give the characters a two-dimensional feel – far from it – but convey a sense of a fully formed life, too large and vibrant to be confined to 20-or-so pages, and instead left for the reader to drift in and out of, partially intuiting but never knowing. Security for the reader in navigating this unfamiliar territory is frequently found in cultural reference points ranging from Hamlet to Alien, a technique best employed in Lemon Pie, where, as the protagonist teaches his imaginary pupils, so are readers discerning from his subtle asides the true nature of his situation. Yet Pachico never allows the reader to be comfortable for long, establishing disconnected settings that are constantly undermined and overwritten; these worlds don’t just change story to story throughout the collection, but scene to scene to create the effect of one organic background behind all the stories. One such dislocating shift begins M + M, which begins as a dialogue between two unknown voices, in stark opposition to the introverted narrative perspectives of the preceding stories. However, this tale also marks a transitional moment, where the interplay and borrowing between the tales becomes more transparent – characters are starting to reoccur, even though their relation to one another, spatial and temporal, often remains unresolved.
The lucky ones are shown not to be a stable elite, but a continuously-morphing uncertainty, existing in the moment and always subject to life’s random changes.
Not satisfied only with an amalgamated common setting, in M + M characters’ identities too merge together, free indirect speech flowing into itself without speech tags, creating a shared thought process with a singular mouthpiece. Such unity of thought and approach is also transferred into Siberian Tiger Park, which offers the most explicit illustration of the role of fiction in the troubled protagonists’ lives. Children are responding to a loss they cannot comprehend, combatting it with the only method they can: escapism. Imagining rivers in Siberia, adventures in Ancient Egypt and even attics in Nazi Germany, it seems that the encroaching danger and loss still creeps into their fantastical perceptions. A similar phenomenon is at work in Armadillo Man, where ethereal description masks the horrific nature of illness – although whether this is for the benefit of the reader, or the child-protagonist, is uncertain. The troubled fantasy lands of Siberian Tiger Park lead appropriately into the next tale, Honey Bunny, a narrative also beginning in the imagination, although drug-induced paranoia here replaces playfulness. Such drug-fuelled paranoia becomes a recurring theme in Junkie Rabbit, a tale punctuated with nervous, confused interjections, adding the anxious urgency of the drug-addled brain to what already seems discomforting territory. And it is this unnerving dislocation that leads so effortlessly into the mood of Bird Thing, in which even the title is menacing in its ambiguity. Its second-person narration is also arresting, but by this juncture the reader is fully immersed in the prevailing fictional world, rendering this direct address an appropriate acknowledgement of the collection’s success. By Julisa, the familiar schoolroom setting is feeling a little tired, needlessly reused in defiance of the myriad options afforded across the tales. But no matter, Pachico is confident of her agenda, and weaving the lives of the tales into one another is key, even if some artistic merit is compromised by the repetitious nature.
In Lemon Pie, the narrator remarks “today counts, even though it’s still unfolding, even though it technically hasn’t happened yet. Today always counts” and it is this belief which lies at the core of this collection. The lucky ones are shown not to be a stable elite, but a continuously-morphing uncertainty, existing in the moment and always subject to life’s random changes. Vibrant, experimental, and enticing, Pachico’s collection delights in systematically establishing, and then undermining, morality, setting and character to take readers on a stimulating tour of a world where political uncertainty has become one with the environment; in The Lucky Ones, there is always more than meets the eye, even if the reader can’t figure it all.
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