Synopses & Reviews
“There could be no doubt left in anyones mind that my life had all the makings of a country-and-western song.”
The second of seven children (with another on the way), Hallie Palmer has one dream: to make it to Vegas. Normally blessed with an uncanny gift for winning at games of chance, shes just hit a losing streak. Shes been kicked out of the casino she frequents during school hours, lost all her money for a car on a bad bet at the track, and has been grounded by her parents. Hallie decides the time as come to cut her losses.
Answering an ad in the local paper, she lands a job as yard person at the elegant home of the sixty-ish Mrs. Olivia Stockton, a wonderfully eccentric rebel who scribes acclaimed poetry along with the occasional soft-core porn story. Under the same wild roof is Olivias son, Bernard, an antiques dealer and gourmet cook who turns out mouthwatering cuisine and scathing witticisms, and Gil, Bernards lover, whose down-to-earth sensibilities provide a perfect foil to the Stocktons outrageous joie de vivre. Here, in this anything-goes household, Hallie has found a new family. And shes about to receive the education of her life.
From a wonderful new voice in fiction comes the freshest and funniest novel to barrel down the pike since Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. In Beginners Luck, Laura Pedersen introduces us to the endearing oddballs and eccentrics of Cosgrove County, Ohio, who burst to life and steal our hearts-and none more so than Hallie Palmer, sixteen, savvy, and wise beyond her years, a young woman who knows life is a gamble . . . and sometimes you have to bet the house.
Funny, sweet-natured, and well-crafted...Pedersen has created a wonderful assemblage of...whimsical characters and charm. Kirkus Reviews
"Funny and just quirky enough to become a word-of-mouth favorite." Publishers Weekly
Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think Hallies mother is never given a first name throughout the entire story?
2. Officer Rich is an African American in a predominantly white town. Do you think this makes him more empathetic to Hallies feeling that she doesnt fit in?
3. Is it wrong for Olivia to seek companionship outside of her marriage while her husband is suffering from Alzheimers disease, even though theres no possibility for his recovery?
4. Craigs parents are able to provide much more by way of material comforts and individual attention for their only child than Hallies parents can for their seven children. Is this a sword that can cut both ways when it comes to the best interests of a child, or is one scenario better than the other?
5. If Craig is accustomed to a normal home life and has everything—hes a football star, smart, and has money for college and material items like his own car, computer, and TV—why do youthink hes attracted to Hallie and the Stocktons?
6. Is there any character in which you see yourself or one of your friends, coworkers, or family members?
7. Do you think Bernard and Olivia enjoy being different, or are they just being true to themselves?
8. From what the guys at the poker game tell Hallie about the Stocktons, it appears that the Judge never knew his son was gay. Do you think the Judges slow demise would have been any less traumatic for Bernard if his father had known about his sexual orientation?
9. Hallies parents object to their daughter residing at the Stockton house on the grounds that its not a Christian home. They object without really even trying to get to know the Stocktons. Can you think of examples where people may slightly twist their religious beliefs to justify a personal agenda?
10. Olivias behavior can seem contradictory. One minute she
speaks as if she doesnt care what people think, but then she does something to suggest she cares very much. Is this because her heart occasionally takes over for her mind, or because she really does care but just doesnt want to admit it?
11. Gils family appears to have disowned him for being gay. Hallie has elected to leave her family, at least temporarily. Meanwhile, Olivia and Bernard are constantly disagreeing and bickering. What does all this say about the challenges of being part of a family? Should one always strive to reach understandings, or is it sometimes necessary to break away from family members?
12. Though we are told the Judges first name, hes never called it or referred to by it. Also, he never speaks. Whether he hears or not is unclear. Is it possible the Judge is symbolic of an entity overseeing the action? Is it significant that he dies at Christmastime?
13. Although Hallie isnt aware of it at the time, her parents sign her guardianship over to Bernard. Is it true, as the adage goes, that if you really love something you should set it free?
14. One night when she cant sleep Hallie reminisces about how things went wrong in the relationship with her mother. Yet she cant come up with one specific moment or incident. Do most young adults arrive at a point where theyre going to oppose authority just for the sake of being oppositional? Is this just part of growing up?
15. Hallies brother Eric and sister Louise appear happy and contented to follow the house rules and engage in the typical routines of teenagers in their school and town. Why is it easier for some people to adhere to “the norm” than others?
16. Is there any one moment or particular incident where you would say Hallie transitions from child to adult, or is this a gradual evolution based on a series of events?
17. Most of us eventually become a version of our parents. Do you think Hallie will turn out to be more like her mom or more like Olivia?
18. Has your own definition of family changed and expanded over the years to include some select friends? What makes a person “like family” to you?
Julie Sciandra and Laura Pedersen have been friends for years
and worked together at various times. They recently sat down to
talk about life and Laura's book Beginner's Luck after bowling.
(Julie won, but only by a few pins, and there will definitely be a
JS: You shouldn't have asked me to do this. I know too much.
LP: That's the reason I can't get rid of you.
JS: Let's start with the cooking. There's a picture of you in the
kitchen with a big red X through it. You're the one who blew up the
potato because you didn't know enough to poke holes in it!
LP: You should talk, Miss Lipton Cup-a-Soup. Anyway, that's why
it's called fiction. I can write about food even if I can't cook it myself.
Nothing bad ever happens to a writer. It's all material.
JS: Same with the flowers. You're allergic to almost anything
LP: But I love to look at them. Pictures are best. However, feel free
to bring me chocolate anytime. The Irish have a saying: "You can't
JS: I've noticed that all your stories involve these large families and
yet you grew up as an only child. Are you stealing from the Pyne
LP: Mostly. They lived behind me and had two parents, nine kids,
two dogs, and a cat. I spent a lot of time over there when I was
growing up. It was a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, and
several families had enough kids for their own football teams.
JS: And what about these Christian families? Your parents divorced
when you were a teenager and are so liberal that they probably vote
LP: Buffalo, where I grew up, is a melting pot of every ethnicity and
religion. When immigrants came to New York from Europe, many
headed upstate to work in the grain elevators and steel mills. At my
public high school we had everything--Baptist, Jewish, Catholic,
Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox. I believe that truth can be found in
almost all religions but that no one religion holds all the truth.
JS: But you're Unitarian. Aren't the people at your church going
to burn you on a question mark for making fun of them in
LP: They laugh at themselves more than anyone else does. Worst
case is that I'll get hit over the head with a clipboard. The real
reason they're going to be mad is that the official name is "Unitarian
Universalist," and they're sticklers about that. But with ten syllables
and twenty-one letters it would take up the entire book.
JS: Two of the main characters, Olivia and Bernard Stockton, are
rather eccentric. Are they based on real people?
LP: Not specifically. I've had several terrific teachers and mentors
throughout my life. I've also known many type A personalities, gamblers,
bohemians, and oddballs, especially having worked on Wall
Street in the 1980s and then in journalism and television. And I must
confess that for the most part I'm charmed by them all--their terrific
energy, idealism, creative vocabulary, and love of life. Also, growing
up in the Unitarian Universalist Church exposed me to a large number
of protesters, peaceniks, petitioners, and so forth.
JS: What did you steal from yourself? Give me one similarity between
you and Hallie and one difference.
LP: I gambled as a kid. I'm an only child. My dad is an only child.
His father was an only child. My mom has a brother and sister, but
they don't have any children. So it was all these grown-ups and me.
They weren't about to start playing Chutes and Ladders and Barrel
of Monkeys. When I was five my mom taught me poker, and later I
learned to count cards at blackjack. But I can only do math when
I'm betting or there's a dollar sign in front of the numbers. Otherwise
I'm a disaster. The major difference between Hallie and me is
that I always knew what I wanted to do with my life, and if my parents
had any expectations they kept them so well hidden that they
haven't surfaced to this day.
JS: So what happens to Hallie after the book ends?
LP: She grows up and one day there's a cousin, niece, nephew, or
neighbor's kid who can't talk to his or her parents and so she returns
the favor of lending a sympathetic ear. Then they all join hands and
sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" in a round.
JS: Yeah, sure they do. I can ask you anything and you have to answer,
LP: Yes, there are electrodes attached to my fingertips.
JS: What's the one thing you wouldn't want readers to know
LP: As a teenager I didn't exactly volunteer the information that my
father was a folksinger. But now I don't mind. I suppose I wouldn't
want people to know about the shoes, the pigs, and the Knicks.
JS: I know about the shoes. When no one is around you have some
of the worst shoes. The boxes they came in would look better on
your feet than the shoes themselves. And I know about the pigs. You
took care of the pigs on a farm when you were a kid, became emotionally
overinvolved, and now everyone gives you pig paraphernalia
(except bacon!). But what's with the New York Knicks? They're
the local basketball team.
LP: I wrote a story for The New York Times and spelled it "Nicks."
Of course, my editor fixed it before we went to print, but it became
clear how little I knew about sports.
JS: But you played soccer in high school.
LP: That's why Hallie plays soccer. It's the only game I know how to
play. Though she's much better than I was.
JS: I believe your claim to fame is never having scored a goal in four
LP: I was a fullback. We're just supposed to stand tall near the goal,
more like security guards than athletes. However, I did score once.
Though it was for the other team. My heel caught the ball and
chucked it into our own goal.
JS: I was curious as to why there wasn't a dog in Beginner's Luck.
You love dogs.
LP: The Stocktons had a dog named Buster, but he's dead by the
time Hallie arrives, though he's still listed in the phone book. I think
in the movie version the town will be the setting for a fight between
two rival gangs of dogs, corgis and Chihuahuas, and it will be
choreographed as a dance sequence like in West Side Story.
JS: I've seen you wandering around with scraps of paper falling out
of your pockets, which means you're working on another book.
Spill the beans.
LP: Last Call is a surprising romantic comedy about a somewhat alcoholic
dying Scotsman who falls in love with a cloistered nun who
also happens to be terminally ill.
JS: It doesn't sound romantic or comedic.
LP: That's the surprise.