The perils of Perry


Patricia Wood <em>William Heinemann, 320pp, £12.99</em>

Perry L Crandell lives with his grandmother and has an IQ of 76. He has a job at the local boatyard, and learns one word from the dictionary each day. He has a good life and considers himself lucky. Even when his beloved gran dies, he copes. Then he wins $12m on the Washington State Lottery and, while Perry stays the same, life as he knows it changes. Begging letters arrive by the truckload and his estranged family members start circling like sharks.

Patricia Wood’s debut novel is a likeable book, written with a fluid, easy charm. In particular, she nails Perry’s voice and his literal view of the world; the way that words, and the ways other people use them, can conceal hidden meanings; the way people often say just the opposite of what they intend.

Given the premise, it’s an inevitably sentimental read, but never unappealingly syrupy. The humour helps, especially as the other characters are somewhat lacking in depth. With the exception of Perry’s beer-drinking boatyard colleague Keith, everyone else is either a decent salt-of-the-earth type or weak-willed, money-hungry, and not to be trusted.

Wood’s light, simple style just about keeps things the right side of trite, but even this doesn’t save the novel from feeling like book-group fodder.

This article first appeared in the 18 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Naughty nation