Just Lucky That Way
Andy Slayde and Ali Wilde
Length: 144 pages/37500 words
Just because Zed Roxbury is hearing voices doesn’t mean he’s insane.
And if he is, all of his friends are joining him. Surely doing a favor for a friend should bring good karma, but a fun 4th July holiday turns into much more than anyone could have anticipated when bad luck dogs Zed. And the voices are just a small part of it. Could the opal brooch he finds have anything to do with it? Or perhaps it’s just Zed’s irresistible allure…
Maybe the past should stay buried.
I was a little confused by this story at first; the blurb led me to expect something paranormal, and while I finally got it, it took a while. Just Lucky That Way opens with Zed and Alex heading to a moderately remote farm where they intend to spend the Fourth of July weekend helping a group of friends renovate an old farmhouse.
This group of young-twenties are sorting out their lives, pairing off, and there are old and subtle tensions within the group. The dynamics were interesting – Zed and Alex are well accepted by the group, and indeed, Zed had dated one or two of them in days gone by. His troubled past is alluded to, and Alex's frailties are also exposed but accepted. I was waiting for voices, but they all belonged to the various friends.
The farm has a mystery attached that goes back to the days of Prohibition; when Zed finds an opal brooch while cleaning out the barn, he attracts the unwarranted attentions and assumptions of the ghost who once owned it. This ghost has a lot of opinions, very strong desires, and the means to achieve them. Once the ghost manifests, the group gets cleared out and the novel assumes a tighter focus.
I got the uneasy feeling that this could have been two stories, or that I was missing something. The extended prologue, some 60 pages setting the scene and characterizations, read like a "Breakfast Club" sort of novel, and while I was enjoying it, a great many of the interesting issues brought up didn't get any further treatment. Zed's high-school suicide attempt, while clearly painful, didn't feel connected to any plot arc. Alex's fear of the water got explained in a small info dump late in the book, though it could have been worked into the narrative. Once the ghost showed up, very little of the early story seemed pertinent at all. Alex and Zed begin as an established couple, and while the relationship is threatened, the paranormal influence in that threat didn't seem clear or especially needed.
Another place it felt like I was missing some backstory was where the ghost shoes up. While everyone is frightened by the manifestations, there isn't much disbelief or denial. Has this group met the supernatural before? There's no mention. The ghost is dealt with, after much trauma and danger: a couple of improv ghostbusting methods play out well.
Zed is a simple guy on the surface: he loves Alex and has a bit of a kink for public sex, but more complex things stir in him. I would have liked to know more about his internal journey from persecuted and suicidal to out and happy, but that arc was background more than story. His interactions with a secondary character hinted at trouble in paradise. For a man in danger, Zed had a lot of mental power to spend on contemplating sex with other guys. Alex, with fragile health and a great fear of the water, was both sweet and feisty, he had to be both strong and resilient to take everything Zed and this story handed him.
The writing gives us their relationship, sometimes in bald statements, sometimes in beautiful writing. I would have liked more of their relationship brought out in illuminating passages like this:
“Why didn’t you date him?” Alex scrambled to his feet and pulled Zed to his.
Zed shrugged. “Don’t ever tell him, but he was a poor substitute for who I really wanted.”
“But when Johnny Depp took out that restraining order against me, I settled for you.”
The two have known each other back into toddlerhood, and have recently transitioned from friends to lovers, another piece of backstory. A line here, a line there explained it, but I couldn't help thinking there was an entire earlier book. I would read it: while I was confused by the conflicting directions this story took, each section was strong enough that I'd sit down with more work from this writing team. I just wish the early promise of the book had been followed through more. 3 marbles