Look Closely

The Night I Got Lucky
by Laura Caldwell
(Red Dress Ink, $12.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-89531-3
Remember that old fairy tale about wishes come true? The one where a fisherman thinks having his every desire granted will change his life for the better, but instead everything goes wrong? Well, take that story, and set it in present-day Chicago. Give it an upwardly mobile heroine who wants to make Vice-President in her public relations firm and rekindle her husband's wavering interest as well as capture the attention of a sexy colleague. And in less time than it would take to think up your own three wishes, you have Laura Caldwell's The Night I Got Lucky.

Billy Rendall seems to have it all, but she is not happy with her life. After her therapist offers her a frog-shaped piece of ancient Chinese jade as a parting gift, things change and drastically so. She wakes up to find her husband, who hasn't spared her a glance for months, now wants her to spend an extra hour tangling sheets in the nuptial bed. She arrives at her office to discover she has the much-coveted title as well as the office and personal assistant that go with it. And Evan, the colleague and friend on whom she has had a crush forever, is sending hot looks and suggestive vibes her way. Even her worries about her stay-at-home mother are over: the latter no longer has time to whine and cling because she is jet-setting it in Milan.

But if Billy now has everything she ever wished for, it turns out her new life is not exactly what she hoped for. Her husband's sudden over-attentiveness is stifling. Evan's amorous pursuit is distressing, given that she is married. Being Vice-President is not just glamour and prestige. It is also a lot of responsibilities, ones that she almost instantly abuses when she fires a zealous and highly competitive junior colleague.

Billy regrets her action, and all the more so when she learns a thing or two about this other woman. She tries to reverse the management decision. She can't change company policy any more than she can undo any of her other wishes-come-true. Believing that the unusual gift is the cause of the whole situation, she attempts to get rid of it, but it just won't go away. Even after she drops the funny-looking frog from the top of Sears Tower, it miraculously shows up again on her night table.

Billy finally realizes that she can neither go back to her old existence, nor find a quick fix to her problems. She must look inside herself to understand the reasons for her unhappiness. She decides to work through the issues in her marriage, career and life. These efforts take up most of the second half of the novel.

The Night I Got Lucky is a clever attempt to dress a traditional tale in modern clothing. Yet despite the interesting premise, the efficient plot and the highly laudable prose, it didn't win me over completely. Billy is too self-obsessed to be truly sympathetic. Goes with the territory, you might say. After all, this is a novel about a woman's self-discovery. But why do her wishes and discoveries have to be so predictable? In fact, as I followed Billy's well-worn road, I began to wonder whether high-concept books and perfectly crafted narratives may be something like dreams-come-true. They frequently turn out to be not quite what we wanted. I closed the book wishing for something quite different.

--Mary Benn

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