We’re reading our way across America...one romance at a time. And, to make it even more fun, we’re doing it in order of incorporation into the United States.
Michigan: Lucky by Jennifer Greene
Going into a book like Lucky, certain things are simply understood up front. A wealthy older husband named “Graham” whose “fleet” includes a “new Mercedes and [a] sleek black Lotus and [a] Lexus SUV” will surely be revealed to be a jankhole of the highest degree, while an impoverished, rangy, chocolate-eyed reporter named “Jake” will necessarily be the salt of the earth. The heroine may come from a working-class background at odds with her husband’s glittering wealth, but she will have Guts and Character. The melodrama will be intense, and a mother’s love will triumph over all.
Yeah, that all happens here, and in short, I was all ready to read this puppy, write a few dismissive paragraphs about how much fun a group of sociologists would have concocting a “spot the trope” drinking game in its honor, and call it a day. But damned if Greene didn’t win me over. This story of a woman finding her strength in the context of a troubled marriage and a sick baby could easily have become mawkish or trite, but somehow Jennifer Greene makes it work.
As Lucky begins, thirty-eight-year-old Kasey Crandall and her husband, the aforementioned Graham, are mainstays of the tony Grosse Pointe, Michigan, social scene. They had agreed before getting married that they didn’t want children; however, thanks to an unfortunate bout of stomach flu that compromised the efficacy of Kasey’s birth control pills, she got pregnant and belatedly realized that motherhood didn’t sound so bad after all. Graham grudgingly agreed to go along for the ride, although as the father of a sullen college student from an earlier marriage, he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about expanding his family. (The question of why, if he was so adamant about not wanting more children, he didn’t just get a vasectomy is assiduously overlooked, probably because if he had been shooting blanks we would have no story.)
That’s the backstory. When we first meet the couple, Kasey has just gone into labor at a fancy party, and Graham is acting more annoyed than excited (he insist on driving her to the hospital in the Beemer because its leather seats will be easier to clean). She ends up at Grosse Pointe’s most exclusive hospital, where they encounter Jake McGraw, a former Grosse Pointe bad boy who grew up crazy rich and became, as an adult, a hard-partying, hard-drinking lawyer (“Gave one party that started out in GP and ended up in Palm Springs,” Graham helpfully informs Kasey). After his wild ways caused his marriage to implode, he gave up the law, gave up alcohol, and took a low-paying job as legal reporter for the local rag. He’s at the hospital researching a string of lawsuits involving newborns—uh-oh.
Kasey’s drawn to him, but soon has bigger fish to fry: her beautiful newborn daughter, Tess, doesn’t seem to be developing normally. She’s far too placid and still, and—even worse—she seems to be blind. The doctors aren’t sure exactly what’s going on, but their working diagnosis, a particularly nasty player called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, is devastating. The doctors—all of them hired by Graham, natch—want to institutionalize Tess for her own good. Graham, for his part, refuses to have anything to do with the baby and talks incessantly about things getting back to the way they used to be. He’s also an inconsiderate lover who wields expensive jewelry, exotic vacations, and his own impressive wealth like weapons to keep Kasey in line.
Kasey has always been a “good girl” who has been raised by an old-school mother to placate her husband at all costs. But keeping him happy in this situation will mean losing her beloved little girl. Meanwhile, kindly Jake keeps turning up, offering information, support, and eventually more. Will Kasey figure out how to make things work with Graham…or will she walk away from a marriage that once made her the luckiest woman in Grosse Pointe?
There are no easy answers here; a sick child can strain the strongest marriage, after all. But at the same time it’s not that difficult, from the reader’s perspective, to pick a side. Wild alcoholic past notwithstanding, Jake might as well be depicted with a shimmering halo above his head, and Graham is frankly such a tool that he might as well have “I’m a Douchebag” tattooed across the bridge of his nose. In Graham’s defense, he was never less than up front about what he wanted out of marriage with Kasey, and she willingly signed on to his vision, until she didn’t. Still, by the time Jake and Kasey finally gave into their feelings, I was hard-pressed to disagree with either one of them.
In particular, I have a thing for rangy, chocolate-eyed sorts (my own handsome husband being one such), and Jake is smart, honorable, and self-aware. He and Kasey are also, despite the dire circumstances, sweetly amusing. Witness their first night together:
“Do you mind if I hurry this along? I realize you’re a man, and men like endless foreplay and all. But I can’t just sit around for hours without feeling…frustrated. I’m sorry.”
“We’re going to need protection.”
“I have protection in my wallet. I have no idea where my wallet is, but—“
“Something tells me you can find it.”
“I’d say the odds are outstanding.”
I also appreciate the fact that Greene avoids falling back on the tired scenario in which the Rich are uniformly portrayed as out-of-touch snobs while the less well-to-do automatically Know How To Keep Things Real, Yo. It’s true that Graham doesn’t come off particularly well, but the women of Grosse Pointe are friendly and welcoming, while Kasey’s working-class mom gives terrible advice from first to last. Those drunken sociologists I mentioned above might have to work at making a drinking game out of this one.
A couple of caveats here. If you don’t care to read about adultery, you will want to sidestep this one (although Greene’s extensive backlist may be worth a look). On the other hand, if babies-in-peril plots make you queasy, I encourage you to read with confidence, keeping in mind, after all, that the book is called Lucky and not Tragic.
Overall, I worried about Tess, I bought into the romance, and I cheered Kasey on as she found the inner strength to overcome a lifetime of conditioning and do what needed to be done. What more can I ask for in a romance novel? I recommend this book, and I’ll be looking for more from Greene in the future.
Kate Nagy is Editor at Large of Geek Speak Magazine.