Half As Happy
“Luck” is from Gregory Spatz’s story collection, HALF AS HAPPY (Engine Books). Spatz is the author of novels Inukshuk, Fiddler’s Dream and No One But Us, as well as a short story collection, Wonderful Tricks. His short stories have appeared in The New England Review, Glimmer Train, The New Yorker, Epoch, Kenyon Review and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Washington State Book Award and a 2012 NEA Literature Fellowship.
Spatz said this about his story: A few years ago, as a challenge to myself and a way to keep busy on sleepless nights, I’d sometimes ask my wife, Caridwen, to give me the opening line for a story as she was drifting off to sleep – just a line, no context, whatever random strangeness occurred to her – then I’d lie next to her in the dark, writing. She has a fertile imagination and enviably narrative dreams, so the endeavor isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. “Luck” began this way, with a line from Caridwen: “Herb Zackowsky was not a betting man.”
The story’s deeper roots go a few years further back, to a time in my life when I spent consecutive summers on cruise ships to Alaska, playing with my band John Reischman and the Jaybirds. What struck me on those trips, aside from the exquisite strangeness of being afloat in a luxury hotel in the midst of spectacular, spartan Arctic scenery, was how crabby so many of the passengers seemed. Like there was some inverse natural law by which the unlimited access to luxury, service, gourmet food and natural beauty amplified every unhappiness. People are conditioned to want, I guess. Reflexively. Even when we have every imaginable privilege, the wanting doesn’t go away – it just gets a little more high-pitched.
Herb Zackowsky is both victim to and witness of this inversion – aware enough of it in himself to see and comment on it; unable to change its effects on him. He may not be a betting man, but in his own ways he’s always been trying to seize control of his fate and improve his lot by gaming the odds. As events on the ship make him begin to realize this, he’s left rocked to the core, but a little closer to knowing who he really is.