LUCKY STRIKE

Nancy Zafris

Lucky Strike is the story of a young widow who is prospecting uranium with her children in Utah in 1954. Zafris’ characters, all mildly desperate, are searching less for ore than for themselves—for redemption, connection, even hope. Jean has sped west with her young children to give her seriously ill son one last adventure and to escape from the weight of too many failed relationships; camp neighbor, Jo, is struggling to endure marriage to a hateful man; and Harry, a salesman, is alienated from his Mormon heritage.

Only Jean’s daughter, Beth, recognizes the epic that is their common search for a thread of ore and riches in the desert Southwest.

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Lucky Strike is the story of a young widow who is prospecting uranium with her children in Utah in 1954. Zafris’ characters, all mildly desperate, are searching less for ore than for themselves—for redemption, connection, even hope. Jean has sped west with her young children to give her seriously ill son one last adventure and to escape from the weight of too many failed relationships; camp neighbor, Jo, is struggling to endure marriage to a hateful man; and Harry, a salesman, is alienated from his Mormon heritage.

Only Jean’s daughter, Beth, recognizes the epic that is their common search for a thread of ore and riches in the desert Southwest. Told by multiple narrators, the novel finds its heart and greatest compassion in Beth. Indeed, if the story has heroes, they are Jean’s bright and open-hearted children.

But Beth is on the cusp of some hard truths, as are they all. In their rough world, amidst this makeshift family, their greatest concern is culling friends from opportunists. But uranium is about to radically change the world, something no one yet understands. The undercurrent of irony, in conjunction with the story’s deep emotion and wit, make Lucky Strike all the more powerful and poignant. In the end, Zafris reminds us that the best search is always for the riches of the heart.

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  • Unbridled Books
  • Paperback
  • 2006
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781932961164

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$14.95

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About Nancy Zafris

Nancy Zafris is a Flannery O’Connor Award winner for her story collection, The People I Know. Her first novel, The Metal Shredders was a New York Times Notable book of 2002. She lives in Columbus Ohio, where she is the fiction editor of The Kenyon Review.

Praise

“What a wild ride this book is. The characters are plucky, sympathetic, and memorable, the situations sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes bittersweet, and the pacing just right. Zafris is a keen observer of the human comedy.” Library Journal, Starred

Discussion Questions

The title of this novel, Lucky Strike, is also the name brand of one of several Geiger counters that the characters use to search for uranium. What significance does this title have to the story? Do the characters experience any lucky strikes?

What significance does the landscape play in the novel? Is there irony in the fact that this barren Utah desert, where the story takes place, holds the promise of great wealth from its uranium deposits? In the richness of these deposits and the effects of uranium poisoning?

Even though she doesn’t believe the get-rich-quick claims in the government pamphlets, Jean Waterman still takes her children, leaves her Midwestern home and joins the ranks of uranium prospectors. How does her relationship with her mother influence her decision to set out on this adventure? The death of her husband? Charlie’s teacher Charlie’s illness?

How is Charlie’s illness central to the story? How does it influence the interactions among the other characters? Why does Jean try to keep the nature of Charlie’s illness secret from the others? Why does she refer to it as “the visitor”?

Jean claims her family makes this trip to satisfy Charlie’s scientific nature. Yet in many ways, Beth figures more prominently in the story as she records the group’s misadventures in her book Beth Waterman, Uranium Girl. What role does Beth play in the story? What does her perspective of the events lend to the story?

When Jean and her children first meet Harry Lindstrom, he is training himself not to drink water because he believes that “then nothing bad will happen.” Later, Harry struggles with his polygamist background and his embarrassing experience in the Airstream. How do his relationships with Jean, the children, Jo, and others impact him?

Many of the characters’ names are as eccentric as the characters themselves. Miss Dazzle, Jimmy Splendid, Vincent Flaherty, Leonard Dawson, Timothy Carle – what do these names reveal about their characters?

When Jean leaves Ohio, she does so against her mother’s wishes. Jean says that her life will be normal as long as she can keep from reaching a truce with her mother. How does Jean’s relationship with Jo Dawson and Miss Dazzle compare to her relationship with her mother? Does it change after she is shot?

According to Beth, adults are mysterious – sometimes their mysteries are interesting; sometimes they aren’t. About teachers, she says, “Now and then duty called upon them to impersonate people of wisdom.” What does she mean by these comments?

Despite this story’s serious overtones – illness, slippery characters, underhanded actions, uranium poisoning and nuclear testing, unrequited love – the story is filled with humor and irony. What effect do these techniques have on the story?

Beth describes herself as resilient, exploratory, loyal, and radioactive. Do these words accurately describe her true nature?

At the end of the story, Beth gets several warning messages: Leave. You shouldn’t be here. You see what I’m trying to tell you? What does she make of these messages? Why do Beth and Charlie run toward the bomb at the end of the novel?

How are the issues of love and loyalty addressed in the novel? Violence? Polygamy? Disillusionment? Ethics? Hope?