I’m lobbying for a different title for this book. I know, I know! That’s not up to me. And even if it it were, I haven’t been able to come up with one. Perhaps Barbara Samuel had the same dilemma, or maybe she’s just tickled with her choice. Either way, the story that followed was not what I expected. It broke my heart.
Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas is a journey story, so the map part of the title is not all bad. The literal journey follows old Route 66, and retraces a route that mother and her two daughters took years earlier. Now, however, mother Eldora and her daughter, India, are searching desperately for India’s missing twin sister, Gypsy, who is schizophrenic and off her meds.
Interwoven into the story is the tale of mother Eldora’s troubled childhood and early adulthood, which she has never shared with anyone – especially her daughters. A reluctant daughter India is making an effort to fulfill a promise she made to her late father by trying to take care of the mother whom she’s always thought of as vain, shallow and not terribly responsible – all while resisting a difficult decision about her own unintended pregnancy.
The promo for this book on Barbara Samuel’s website highlights the romantic element in the book. Will India and Jack’s relationship survive her accidental pregnancy? Can India make him understand her very real fear of giving birth to a child she could lose to schizophrenia in the same way she’s lost her sister? If I’d read the promo first, I doubt that I would have read the book. Fortunately (at least for me!) Samuel’s skill at character development is far superior to her marketing prowess, and it raises the emotional stakes in the story considerably.
Eldora’s need to be understood for who she really is – the good, the bad and the ugly – could ruin the tenuous relationship she has with India. For India’s part, trust and emotional investment are not her strong suits. She’s lost the language that once connected her to her twin. Can she accept the truth about Eldora? Can she forgive her mother for her failures as a mother and a wife? Can she trust herself to be a mother, a wife? Is it wisdom or weakness to yield a share of the decision about her pregnancy to Jack?
Timing is everything. I read this book at the height of election season. I’d heard a number of politicians propounding the idea that the poor would not be poor, the unfortunate would not be unfortunate, if only we could teach them to make better decisions. In this book it’s obvious: the poor don’t have the same set of choices. Neither do the powerless, which includes children and the mentally ill. Eldora’s choices were never pretty, never painless, but they accomplished the only goal for which she could afford: self-preservation.
This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and audio CD, as well as large book format.