LUCK by Joan Barfoot (Knopf), 312 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Nora is a painter who followed her husband, Phil, to a big house in a small town where most people are deeply suspicious of art. They live an insular life with two other women - Beth, Nora's seemingly vapid artist model, and Sophie, their buxom housekeeper, who's been having her way with the man of the house on the sly. This unconventional foursome is cause for much town gossip. At the outset of the novel, Nora wakes up to find Phil has died beside her in the night - totally unexpectedly. She's lost the man she's shared every intimate and habitual moment with for more than a decade. Sophie, who's lost Phil at the height of their honeymoonish passion, feels widowed. Beth feels emancipated by the drastic change in their domestic reality and sets her romantic sights on Nora - sort of.
Luck's action takes place entirely in the three days leading up to the funeral, where dramatic events ensue. Woven through that 72-hour period are the women's memories of Phil, who leaves the narrative as it begins but still haunts every word.
While this is Barfoot's 1oth novel, her work is entirely new to me. Because she's often compared to Alice Munro and Carol Shields, I'd mistakenly assumed she'd be skilled but not have much edge. But Luck is unexpectedly and delightfully derisive, cutting and comical.
However, while Barfoot is particularly in tune with the complex and varied experiences of women, she deploys a tired stereotype in her one queerish female. I won't spoil it, but think Basic Instinct or Heavenly Creatures.
Secondly, Luck ends with an over-written coda set a few years after Phil's death, tying all the mysteries together with tidy bows.
Otherwise, Luck entirely deserves its accolades. A well-crafted page-turner, it's on the Giller Prize short list.
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