Iain Reid's The Truth about Luck (2013)

When I started reading The Truth about Luck, I was taking the bus to meet a friend to go book-buying.


We had chosen the date and destination a month ago; the only thing left to decide the night before was the exact time that we would meet in the morning.


When I met Iain Reid on the page, he was confessing that although he and his grandmother were about to take a trip he promised her as a birthday present months ago, he hasn’t planned a single thing for it.


“When it’s laid out in front of you, three months is a rambling cornfield of time, rows and rows of tall, green stalks between you and the ninetieth day. For me, three months is a synonym for eternity. It’s so long, I’m still resisting the planning. I’m putting it off as you read this.”


I checked the back cover to see if there was any clue as to whether this trip actually unfurled; perhaps it was going to be a Cinderella-type-tale of transformation, in which happenstance on a roadtrip blooms into something unexpectedly wonderful. But I was still anxious.


And, as the situation sinks further (he drives to his parents’ house to raid their refrigerator) I was increasingly unsettled.


I was picturing his grandmother sitting on top of her suitcase at the end of her driveway, checking her watch, anticipating a lovely getaway, and was certain that it was bound to be disappointing.


(By this time I have checked the time too often myself, not wanting to keep my friend waiting even a minute or two; if Iain Reid is an under-worrier, I am an over-worrier.)


However, even if the reader were to cross the line into open irritation with the author, I’m certain that Iain Reid’s charm and authenticity would hold sway.


He knows that that rambling cornfield of time held many opportunities to plan for this trip, and he clearly wishes that he had done something different before that ninetieth day.


He displays that for the reader, and creates a space in which one might make allowances.


Taking a trip or inviting someone into your home for a spell (this isn’t much of a spoiler, for it’s clear within a few pages that this is going to be a stay-cation) alters one’s perspective on the everyday.


When Iain Reid begins to share time and space with his grandmother, he looks at his own life differently. Even when he is driving from her house to his, details that he usually overlooks now, viewed through her eyes, make him feel not only foolish and unsophisticated, but sour with himself:


“As I straighten and fasten the dented licence plate, my delicately positive mood disintegrates. With Grandma watching, this act makes me feel much more foolish and unsophisticated than it usually does. And realizing this, that I usually don’t feel any remorse or embarrassment over continuously taping my front plate, fills me with a deep self-directed sourness.”


This kind of vulnerability pulls the reader closer to the author. No matter that I was initially shocked that he spent less time planning an actual vacation with his grandmother than I spent planning an errand with a friend; I would have gotten out of the car to help him tape the license plate in a second.


“Personally I’d always hated heat, sun, and beach vacations. With my fair skin and bony thighs that can’t fill in the tightest spandex, I’m as physically suited to these trips as I am to giving birth.”


And, perhaps, he is psychologically unsuited to planning vacations as well. But he is not the kind of person who thinks they are not worth planning; this story told by “that” kind of person would be quite a different story indeed.


“When pushed for which one in the group I was, he used the word ‘egghead’ and asked what the opposite of an adrenalin junkie was. I wonder if I can offer Grandma a sherry first thing tomorrow morning?”


The author places a value on this vacation and asks friends and family for suggestions. (And, it’s worth saying, he asks during the cornfield-days, not on the morning-of.)


But there is no keystone of advice.And, anyway, there are further complications. It is going to rain.


“From so far away, this cloud looks to be around the size of Ireland.”


So, not only a stay-cation, but largely an indoor stay-cation.


“As much as I didn’t want to admit it, a ninety-two-year-old travelling companion was actually right in my wheelhouse. Lots of strolls, time for reading, cups of tea, ten hours of sleep per night, not too much direct sunlight, three square meals a day. It would be my kind of pace. It would be my kind of trip.”


Which only emphasizes the monotonous elements of the author’s everyday life.


“A greyness has settled onto everything. All is drab. My town has become an overused washcloth that hangs over a faucet – damp and dingy and tired. It’s not just the sky but the streets, the buildings, people’s faces. This feels like a new, undesired season, something in between winter and spring.”


One might say that the premise of this story is also between winter and spring; Iain Reid and his grandmother might not be travelling far in terms of geography, but in the literary landscape they are in familiar territory.


“Margaret Laurence used to say that her English readers thought The Stone Angel was about old age, the Americans thought it was about some old woman they knew, and the Canadians thought it was about their grandmothers.”*


The Truth about Luck might be about a meeting of the ages for some, for others it might be about the relationship between a grandchild and a grandparent, and it might be about our grandmothers.


One thing is certain; a reader can travel with Iain Reid and his grandmother on the page without any planning required.


* Margaret Atwood, “In Search of Alias Grace: On Writing Canadian Historical Fiction” The American Historical Review (Volume 103, Issue 5: 1503-1516) 198: 1504.


This piece originally appeared here, on BuriedInPrint.