These are the words Nicola Griffith indignantly and continuously returns to throughout her slim new novel, So Lucky. The protagonist, Mara, leads a life of queer dreams: she’s the executive director of an AIDS nonprofit, she’s married to a woman she loves, and she’s a boss at martial arts. But this is Mara’s backstory; at the start of this book, her wife Rose is leaving her. Soon after that, Mara is diagnosed with MS.
This is a story about the monsters that eat us from the inside and the outside. It’s about the crippling power of biology and fear. It’s about a queer woman who finds herself almost alone, without any of her usual safety nets, while her body betrays her, and so does her mind. But it’s also about resilience and the battle for independence, comfort, and identity that can feel so destroyed by things we can’t control.
Everything I ever wanted to do with my life involved using my body, Mara narrates, and how universal that is. The same thing is true for me and every able-bodied person I know. Sport, sex, going to work, feeding the cat- these things were granted for Mara until they weren’t.
The horror element of So Lucky isn’t subtle. There are two threads: the horror of losing control over one’s body, and the horror of being targeted because of this new physical vulnerability. The storyline that follows Mara’s growing obsession with some at-large serial killers that seem to be targeting MS patients tracks her expanding paranoia, but it also has something important to say to the reader: listen to the vulnerable. Listen to the people who are saying they’re being attacked, because they are. The killers in the story are metaphors for society, whose apathy and/or hostility toward disabled, queer, or otherwise “marginalized” people is literally killing them. The allegory is powerful because of its acuteness, and its bluntness.
From the inside, Mara’s voice is at times funny, at times poetic, at times enraged. [Anger is] a physical thing that needs physical remedies, Griffith writes, and the “fear therapy” offered by the various MS medications; the realization that “crips have fewer choices” when it comes to self-defense and being heard; the tangled battle of outer and inner forces wreaking havoc on Mara’s reality; make her feel like she “could have been made of air.” No longer the body trained to a blade, but a floating invisible being.
My mind is slippery with panic and my muscles are blocks of wood. Mara’s longing for the women she loves- her ex-wife and a girlfriend who moved to New Zealand- and her mourning for her own body are devastating, but they also show us a woman with a reservoir of strength that won’t let her completely give in to the invisible, or the despair.
So Lucky is a compelling read. Mara and the constellation of characters around her- lovers, co-workers, training partners, fellow MS patients- is complex and alluring. Her inner experience drives the story, but the other characters feel crucial to both Mara’s and the reader’s understanding of it. I really enjoyed reading this gut-punch book, and will probably go back and read some of Nicola Griffith’s other work. I’ve read most of Ammonite and got a little lost in the world-building so I DNF’d it, but I do want to read Hild and challenge myself to crack into the Aud Torvingen series to see what this writer does with other genres. I’m not usually a high fantasy or murder mystery reader, but So Lucky was sufficiently enjoyable to get me to try them because of the author.