Excerpt from Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Lucky Boy

by Shanthi Sekaran

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran X
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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Prologue

Clara, patron saint of television and eye disease, stood three feet tall in the church at the end of the road. The road was known generally as la calle, for it was the only one in the village, narrow, sprouting caminos and footpaths as it went. Scattered along it were one church, one store and a one-room schoolhouse, recently closed. The road ended in a small square, where the town hall stood, and a cantina with the town's only television. It sat on a foldaway table, and when the men weren't hunched around it watching the football, it spun lazy afternoon offerings of love and betrayal, murder and long-lost sons.

Clara, beauty of Assisi, nobleman's daughter, ran away one night to a friar at the roadside, was brought to Saint Francis and shorn. Her hair fell like cornsilk to the ground and she traded her dress for a rough brown habit. She walked barefoot and lived in silence and begged for her daily bread. But she didn't mind. She'd fallen in love with something larger than her world.

Clara was ill one day, Papi said, and couldn't go to mass. She lay faded in her bed, and what flickered on her wall but a vision of the daily service, from processional to homily to eucharist? And so they made her patron of eye disease, because what could have visited her but a dance of glaucomic flashes? And then television came along and needed a patron, and the pope said Clara. And how about the time, Papi once said, when she faced down an invading army, alone at the convent window with nothing but the sacrament in hand? Now, Clara spent her days tucked into a dim chapel. Day in, day out, alone in the shadows, and if anyone did visit, it was only because they wanted something.

But that night was La Noche del Maiz. The village priest brought her down from her perch and wiped tenderly her web of whisper-fine cracks. He wrapped her in finery, silk robes and nylon flowers, and loaded her on her platform. Four strong men raised her high and she wobbled down the road but didn't fall—not once had she fallen—and so it began: a trumpet's cry, a line of altar boys, the swing of a cloud-belching censer.

Fine for a saint, thought Solimar, to wait all year for a single tromp through the village. Fine for a saint to spend all of eternity with her mouth shut, her feet still. Solimar Castro Valdez was no saint. She was breaking out. She'd come out that evening to meet a man, not a friar. His name was Manuel. He owned a car and a passport—the right kind—and he'd be taking her away from this place. And he was there. Right there in Santa Clara Popocalco.

For months, the idea of leaving had lain dormant. But it was stirring now, snuffling to life. Every cell in her body strained against its casing. It was time to leave. It was time.

Manuel would meet her at the entrance to the town hall. Slowly, slowly, the procession moved on. She walked hand-in-hand-in hand with her mother and father. She squeezed their papery old fingers and pulled harder with each step. When they turned a corner, she spotted the clock tower by the church. Seven minutes late already. She flung off her parents' hands. "See you there!" she cried, and ran.

At the town hall doors: no Manuel. No one who looked like he owned an American passport. A man like that would have to be handsome—not that handsome mattered, not when all she wanted was the land beyond the border, except that she was eighteen and helpless against the nether-murmur of romance.

At the town hall doors, breathless still, she waited. Papi found her and brought her a plate of tamales, which she was too jumbled inside to eat. Mama would be milling through the village plaza and finding old friends from nearby towns, stretching spools of gossip that had begun a month, a year, a decade before.

As the sky dimmed, drums and horns throbbed through the square. Drink had been drunk and around her the village swarmed with new faces: where had they come from? A pair of teenagers leaned and kissed against a tree, a flutter of children linked arms in a circle, running themselves off their feet, a perilous carousel of arms and legs and fevered teeth. Still, no Manuel. She felt she should smoke a cigarette, though she'd never tried one before. She believed a cigarette would make her feel like less of a waiting fool.

Excerpted from Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran. Copyright © 2016 by Shanthi Sekaran. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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