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Balancing Act: On Luck in Rerouted and Breaking Right

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, so we’re all hearing a lot about the “luck of the Irish” this week. It’s been making me think about books in which luck (fate, happenstance, destiny, fortune or what have you) appears to be an implicit or explicit theme. Two of the books that came to mind for me are Daniel Bryant’s Rerouted and D.A. Lockhart’s Breaking Right, recent short story collections published by the Porcupine’s Quill.

In Rerouted, the fates of the characters appear to get “rerouted” by happenstance. The postal worker in “Deadwalk” just so happens to be assigned a cursed route. The band members in “Ghost Note” happen to run into the shape-shifting wendigo. “St. Eliot” and “Dogwalk” are both stories in which the characters happen to find themselves in the wrong place, wrong time.

Clearly, if it’s luck that we’re seeing in Rerouted, it’s of the bad variety, but it’s little surprise as the collection is a darkly comic one. Black comedy is all about making light of dark subject matter—death, crime, violence, and other serious topics. So as a way of dealing with this darkness, we need an escape valve, a way of looking at those serious topics and finding the absurdity in them.  In Rerouted, “bad luck” introduces a comedy-of-errors or slapstick element to the stories, allowing us to laugh even when we’re reading about a murder scene or a hold up.

By contrast, the characters in D.A. Lockhart’s Breaking Right seem to experience the pleasures of unexpected good luck. A blue-collar guy not only discovers a new dream for his future in “Riding the Rosewater”—he finds a way to achieve it against all odds. A hard-luck talent scout has the bad luck to see the dreaded Mothman in “Mothman Returns to Muncie”, but instead of immediate death, he finds himself enjoying a passionate night with a beautiful colleague. In “From the Banks of Jeffersonville”, a man’s accidental connection with a girl from a rich and powerful family leads him to become a false alibi, but a pretty willing one who seems about to enjoy all the perks of the job. These characters at first seem down on their luck, but they nevertheless manage to find themselves in extraordinary experiences, often ones that leave them with more hope for the future than before.

These happy—or at least hopeful—endings seem to readers’ expectations and the characters’ own. The modern regional mythologies that direct the characters’ beliefs are (mostly) scary ones—big cats on the hunt, mythical creatures as omens of death, the natural world as an impediment or opponent. And yet through sheer luck, the unhappy fates seemingly prescribed by these mythologies are averted, avoided, or strangely, embraced, only to result in happier outcomes. Luck here is an agent of change, but the change is what the characters make of it, and in most cases, they make of it something good.

So if in Rerouted, bad luck acts as a way of introducing comedy into dark subjects, and in Breaking Right, good luck is a way of injecting hope into fear-inducing mythologies, it seems to me that the concept of luck in these literary offerings is one of balance. It’s a way of tempering the unbearable with humour and hope. It’s interesting to me that it can two so in seemingly incompatible ways and in two directions—but that’s the thing about luck. It can subvert expectations either way.

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Thanks for listening to me ramble on the subject of luck in literature this St. Patrick’s day. May your luck today be good—or lead to good things—in literature and in life! And don’t forget that if you’re interested in reading these fine books, Rerouted and Breaking Right are available now in print or digital format.

Cheers,

Steph


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.