Monday, January 25, 2010

The Lottery: A Guest Post by Patricia Wood

Today is an exciting day for me. I get to discuss a book here on the blog and this afternoon at work. I love a good book and I love discussing books. I've already had a few brief discussions with others either through email or with those who've popped into my office and it seems the The Lottery is the perfect fodder for discussion. I was thrilled when Patrica Wood, the books author agreed to write something for the club. This is the second time we've been joined by a book's author, it adds so much to the enjoyment of the day and the discussion.

A note about the following post. Patricia sent me this via email and when I cut and pasted it into my blog, it lost all formatting. As much as I tried, I simply couldn't keep it. So I've 'paragraphed' it according to my reading of it. I apologize now to Patricia if I inadvertently shifted meaning in any way. I apologize to my readers for not having better computer skills. However, acknowledging errors as my own - here's what Patricia had to say ...


Lottery has been out 2 ½ years. I’m still amazed at the reactions I get. Everything from “Gee, it was a fun ‘beach read.’” To “I’m making it required reading for my classroom to address the issue of empathy.” Or even “I’m using it for a door-stop or for propping up the short leg on my kitchen table.” And finally. “Why’d you use so many F-words?”

As for me? I like the idea that my novel engenders empathy and compassion.EMPATHY: Understanding another’s feelings. Compassion.COMPASSION: Concern. Kindness. Consideration.This is different than tolerance which implies a sort of hierarchy i.e. I will go out of my way to be superficially nice to you because I’m so much better than you… Although I was a classroom teacher and focused on disability and diversity in my PhD work, my primary goal (if I’m to be utterly honest) was to tell a compelling story that resonated with readers.

There’s a negotiation which takes place between a reader and an author: Authors bring their creation to fruition using their life experiences and you as a reader bring your life experiences into the mix when you read.No reader will get the same message when they read the same book. No one gets the same meaning from a particular collection of words. Everyone’s interpretation will be slightly different.My premise was to see if I could convince a reader that Perry L. Crandall exists. That he is real. That he is a living, breathing human being. That you are all, in fact, reading his story from his own particular and unique point of view.

It’s very hard not to bristle up like a mother hen when work you are passionate about is criticized. It’s like someone telling you your child has flaws. Yet, there should always be room for debate about an author’s intent and whether or not that author is successful in achieving that intent. There are times when someone says LOTTERY is exactly like Forest Gump and I have to shake my head. We are willing to accept myriad stories about some single 30-something woman in New York City looking for a husband and wearing Jimmy Choos, yet we seem not to appreciate the nuances of characters who define themselves as slow. We have difficulty appreciating that there are many portrayals of those who have mental challenges that do not have to be either Lenny in Of Mice and Men or the savant in Forest Gump. They can be subtle variations of either.

The self-identification of slowness is not unique to Forest Gump or even my character Perry. My students who had cognitive challenges or who were described by those-who-find-a-need-to-label as developmentally disabled, all preferred to call themselves slow, rather than embrace the more brutal and limiting terms that society tends to use.We all go at our own speed. And maybe speed is how we should see things. We all arrive at the same destination, just at different times.

I take pride in foiling those-who-find-a-need-to-label by not giving Perry any descriptor such as Down syndrome or autism or learning disabilities? Would it allow you understand him better?I think not.But I can call Perry an optimist like many of my students were. Like I am.Do I berate myself because I can’t be a nuclear physicist or run an Olympic marathon? No of course not. But I can watch Discovery Channel and be amazed at scientific breakthroughs or jog for exercise and dream I'm heading towards a finish line while I do so.

My students didn’t sit around my classroom bemoaning the fact they couldn’t do something. They celebrated and enjoyed the things that they could.Is LOTTERY flawed?For some readers maybe, for others, no.Does it do what I set out to accomplish?For some readers yes, for others no.Will everyone appreciate LOTTERY?No, but then I didn’t expect everyone to. No book resonates with all readers.When I imbued Perry with honesty, made him naive, gave him wants, needs and sexual desires, made him a little bit single-minded and self-centered, I also gave him a generous spirit. I made him at times conflicted and confused and supremely happy, just as we all have been at some point in our lives. I had him grieving for those he lost and appreciating those who were his friends.When I did these things, I did them with the expectation readers could find a commonality between themselves and Perry.Because when we recognize how very much alike we all are, even though we use a wheelchair, or a guide dog, or require assistance or adaption in some way, to navigate life, when we are able to celebrate our differences, it is then we start to really value our fellow human beings.

I know how Perry L. Crandall would respond to this possibility.He’d say, “That would be so totally cool!”This is true.This is echt.


rickismom said...

Ms. Woods, a very well-put post!
I enjoyed your book, and my comments on the book (and implications for parents) is HERE:
Thank you Dave for hosting.

Jan said...

This was a wonderful book and the character of Perry was a delight to read about. Ms Woods created a character made up of joys and flaws like all of us. I think the real hero of the story is the grandmother who gave Perry the tools to be what he could be and not dependent upon the other not so stellar family members.

ORION said...

I think support systems are important. It's also important to realize that those with cognitive challenges can be in peril from many quarters including family members. I in no way want to suggest what I write is what happens- it's only a possible scenario...

Dave Hingsburger said...

I took a hard breath at the beginning of the book when Perry declared that he was not r@tarded. His pride in that one extra IQ point disturbed me no end. I almost, at that point, put the book down. I wanted to read about a guy with a disability who was OK, even proud, of who he was and how he existed in the world. Wood made me angry, I had hoped that she would give me the character I needed. Only later did I realize that she created the character that the story needed and, indeed, a character more real than my idealized one. What I thought about most is how society and systems have created such negative words and such horrible portrayals of people with intellectual disabilities that there is massive internalized disphobia in so many of the people with intellectual disabilities that I meet and work with. In fact, Perry goes a long way in contradicting the stereotypes and creating a new way of seeing and discussing disability. In the end I was glad that Patricia stayed true to her vision and Perry's voice. There is much else to say about the book, but I'll wait to see what others say.

Susan said...

I loved the book! And there were a couple of things I particularly liked about it. First, Perry's grandmother made sure that he found ways to compensate for his "slowness." He made it his mission to learn words - and that gave him a skill that served him well as an adult. Second, Perry had a tremendous ability to collect a good support system. By "good," I mean people who genuinely supported him - and didn't use him to meet their own goals! (we could all use that!) Finally, Perry showed a sense of wisdom in all his decisions. In my book wisdom wins over IQ any day of the week! (check out some of the books about social/emotional intelligence!)

Thank you for a wonderful read, a wonderful story and a great life lesson!!!
Susan Ludwig

rickismom said...

I ALSO liked Perry's grandmother best. (But the sad reality is that despite her good intentions, her apartment still did not go to Perry, which is VERY sobering....)
I also didn't like (initially) that Perry was so adamant about not being retarded, HOWEVER I see in my own daughter (despite tremendous efforts on my part to the contrary) to be very touchy about this matter. Perry is VERY believable.
As Ms Woods commented on my post, the book explores very well the way society views money, beauty, and intelligence. And since these values are almost universally admired, it is very hard for ANY of us to break away totally from trying to obtain these "characteristics"

Emma said...

I really enjoyed this book so thanks to Dave for introducing me to it and Ms Woods for writing it. If I wasn't so tired I'd try to say something better than that. I've posted my thoughts on Reading Challenge which is for people to post reading goals and post about books they love here
I'm looking forward to reading others thoughts!

Heather said...

My review is here at

Sorry the date on it is wrong but that's when I started writing it and I casn't work out how to change it.


Ruthie said...

Our book club read 'Lottery' last November & had a skype discussion with Patricia. She was a thoroughly entertaining & witty conversationalist. The book spurred conversations on what the 'slow' label really meant & how society really perceives the mentally challenged person. We all agreed that we love Perry & his ability to find beauty in a world that sometimes is not beautiful.

Fun Mum said...

As the parent of a 14 y.o. who has down syndrome, I could not put the book down once I started. Literally - up until 2:00am. Even though it was a work of fiction, I could see the what was coming in the story and like a (potential) train wreck, I had to know that everything was OK. I was really projecting my daughter on this character and just HAD to know that things would turn out well. Excellent read, and timely for me to ensure that I have created a safe, stable, well funded world for my child once I am no longer here.

ORION said...

oh much apologies for keeping people up until 1 and 2 am...but you know that is satisfying to authors when we hear this...
Also I've commented on other blogs about this-but will repeat- when parents see their children in Perry - it tells me Perry as a character resonates with authenticity...YES we want our kids to be happy the way they are but they are bombarded by the media otherwise...

Kasie said...

Great book! Great post!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Orion, for those who haven't made the connection is Patrica Wood, the book's author. Welcome, Patricia!

ORION said...

oops! I forgot to introduce myself!
I'm Patricia Wood lol!

Kristin said...

I think this is truly a wonderful book. I could easily see Perry as someone living in my world. I loved that Perry was a fully formed, multi-dimensional character just like each and every one of us is.

I think one of the most important lessons this book taught was just how far anyone can go if they have at least one strong champion like Perry did in his Grandmother. This is not saying that the champion does it for them but, we all need someone who teaches us to believe in ourselves and helps us find ways to conquer our difficulties. This is a very important book for people to read.

Belinda said...

Just back from the Vita book club this afternoon, which was so much fun! Dave said at the beginning that he had a surprise: Patricia Wood would be joining us. I looked around the room and said, "NO WAY!" and Dave quickly added, "BY PHONE!" :)

It was a stimulating discussion about the book, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. It was indeed wonderful to have the privilege of a guest appearance by the author herself. Thank you so much Dave, Manuela and Patricia.

ORION said...

It's alway such a pleasure to connect with readers. Art is more than just the creation of a's when a reader enjoys it and finds satisfaction in the story- and then what really makes it complete is when it returns full circle to the artist and the two can exchange ideas of what it meant to them.
Much aloha for this opportunity.

Myrrien said...

I haven't had an opportunity to write my own review but this has to be one of the best books I have read in a while. Thanks Dave and Ms Woods for writing it. Like others I struggled for a bit with how Perry defined himself but many people I have worked with prefer "slow", even my own mother prefers slow to my brothers actual condition. I recognised with sadness how sometimes family can abuse especially when it comes to finances. I enjoyed how the story unfolded and how Perry's own supports developed, his gran, Keith and his employer and finally his own sexual relationship.

A thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking read. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I too was sad to see the R word as i feel it perpetuates its use. But i did enjoy Perry’s character and the story as it slowly unfolded until the end which felt to me quite rushed. The happy ever after seemed just too ‘lucky’.

lottery said...

I agreed with susan that people who genuinely supported him - and didn't use him to meet their own goals! (we could all use that!) Finally, Perry showed a sense of wisdom in all his decisions.

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lotto said...

I hate lotteries. I have myself seen one of my friends get addicted to gambling when he won some amount with a mega millions ticket. It is an addiction that lands you in financial trouble. I prefer staying away from it.

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