The expression "beginner's luck" may be the chosen title of Laura Pedersen's new novel but it certainly could not be used to describe the book. Author of GOING AWAY PARTY and PLAY MONEY: My Brief but Brilliant Career on Wall Street, Pedersen is still a relatively young writer. However, she exhibits the talent of not only a seasoned novelist but also a great storyteller.
Hallie Palmer, the main character and narrator, is no ordinary sixteen year old. A skilled gambler and novice detective, Hallie spends her free time dealing cards, placing bets at the race track and trading stocks (much like Pedersen herself did as a youth) while her contemporaries are planning proms and attending football games. One of seven children, Hallie is often as equally lost in the home front crowd as she is on the high school scene. Wanting to fit in-like any teenager --- and yet struggling to maintain or assert her own identity --- Hallie decides to drop out of high school and take on a job as a "yard person" for an eccentric family in town.
The eccentric family, the Stocktons, become Hallie's lifeline. She quickly moves in with them, realizing that their love of life and total acceptance of who and what they are is exactly what she has been personally searching for in her life. What a rich set of characters they are! (If you are a fan of Anne Tyler, you'll see that Pedersen's people are reminiscent of the population in Tyler's body of work). Olivia, the grandmotherly head of the clan, dispenses her own unique brand of wisdom and advise. For instance, when Hallie confides she's having boy trouble because her boyfriend claims to have physical needs she's not yet willing to satisfy, Olivia gives an unconventional recommendation for an adult to a child: a hand job. Bernard, the gay adult son and chef extraordinaire, fills the pages with warmth and mouthwatering passages, as he concocts meals to match moods and epicurean delights for every event. Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not mention Rocky, the live-in monkey, who is both a practicing Catholic and a gifted bartender. (Yes, that's right --- the monkey.)
Good characters drive a story. Writing loveable, likable, memorable, believable quirky characters is either a gift at birth or a talent one develops with years of experience. For Laura Pedersen, the former is true. She is a natural and her characters ARE her story. I suspect she will be telling us great tales for years to come, if she plays her cards right.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 1, 2003