Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About the Book
In her second novel, Nancy Zafris once again creates a cast of colorful
characters who, in their search for uranium deposits, find themselves along the
way. Lucky Strike is a sometimes zany, always poignant look at the unexpected
friendships that develop among this group and the ties that bind them.
It's the 1950s and the U.S. government's atomic weaponry program has fueled a
demand for uranium. Jean Waterman is a young widow living in the Midwest with
her two children, one with a debilitating illness. Desperate to leave this life
behind, Jean packs her car and, along with her children, travels to the canyon
lands of the Southwest, hoping they will strike it rich and join the ranks of
"uraniumaires." Jean and her children arrive in Utah equipped with inadequate
gear and a few government pamphlets that glamorize uranium mining, ready to
claim their fortune and start their lives anew. They meet up with a small band
of townspeople from all walks of life, all prospecting to change their
circumstances. What ensues is a tangle of unlikely events that miraculously lead
these prospectors to not only discover uranium ore, but more importantly to mine
the wealth of their relationships and to find something far more valuable as the
adventure becomes a personal journey for each one.
The title of this novel, Lucky Strike, is also the name brand of one of
several Geiger counters that the characters use to search for uranium. What
significance does this title have to the story? Do the characters experience any
What significance does the landscape play in the novel? Is there irony in
the fact that this barren Utah desert, where the story takes place, holds the
promise of great wealth from its uranium deposits? In the richness of these
deposits and the effects of uranium poisoning?
Even though she doesn't believe the get-rich-quick claims in the
government pamphlets, Jean Waterman still takes her children, leaves her
Midwestern home and joins the ranks of uranium prospectors. How does her
relationship with her mother influence her decision to set out on this
adventure? The death of her husband? Charlie's teacher? Charlie's illness?
How is Charlie's illness central to the story? How does it influence the
interactions among the other characters? Why does Jean try to keep the nature of
Charlie's illness a secret from the others? Why does she refer to it as "the
Jean claims her family makes this trip to satisfy Charlie's scientific
nature. Yet in many ways, Beth figures more prominently in the story as she
records the group's misadventures in her book Beth Waterman, Uranium Girl. What
role does Beth play in the story? What does her perspective of the events lend
to the story?
When Jean and her children first meet Harry Lindstrom, he is training
himself not to drink water because he believes that "then nothing bad will
happen." Later, Harry struggles with his polygamist background and his
embarrassing experience in the Airstream. How do his relationships with Jean,
the children, Jo, and others impact him?
Many of the characters' names are as eccentric as the characters
themselves. Miss Dazzle, Jimmy Splendid, Vincent Flaherty, Leonard Dawson,
Timothy Carlewhat do these names reveal about their characters?
When Jean leaves Ohio, she does so against her mother's wishes. Jean says
that her life will be normal as long as she can keep from reaching a truce with
her mother. How does Jean's relationship with Jo Dawson and Miss Dazzle compare
to her relationship with her mother? Does it change after she is shot?
According to Beth, adults are mysterioussometimes their mysteries are
interesting; sometimes they aren't. About teachers, she says, "Now and then duty
called upon them to impersonate people of wisdom." What does she mean by these
Despite this story's serious overtonesillness, slippery characters,
underhanded actions, uranium poisoning and nuclear testing, unrequited lovethe
story is filled with humor and irony. What effect do these techniques have on
Beth describes herself as resilient, exploratory, loyal, and radioactive.
Do these words accurately describe her true nature?
At the end of the story, Beth gets several warning messages: Leave. You
shouldn't be here. You see what I'm trying to tell you? What does she make of
these messages? Why do Beth and Charlie run toward the bomb at the end of the
How are the issues of love and loyalty addressed in the novel? Violence?
Polygamy? Disillusionment? Ethics? Hope?
Nancy Zafris. The Metal Shredders (2002) Alistair MacLeod.
No Great Mischief (2001) Annie Proulx. Postcards (1992) Raye C. Ringholz.
Uranium Frenzy: Saga of the Nuclear West (2002) Marianne Wiggins. Evidence of Things Unseen
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Unbridled Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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