The Higher Power of Lucky is set in and around Hard Pan, California, a town of 43 people. The town’s tiny size and isolation are emphasized throughout the book in many ways: locations do double or triple duty (the visitor center, for example, is also a museum); the bus ride to school is fifty miles long; and, of course, everyone knows everyone else’s business, including how many people there are in the town (it dropped to 42 when Lucky’s mother died but went back to 43 when Brigitte moved in) and what they have for dinner and snacks.
The town is also poor. Many of the inhabitants live on government aid, have to watch their money carefully, and consider paper napkins a luxury. However, it is emotionally rich. The people care about one another deeply and find their lives intimately interwoven.
The name of the town, Hard Pan, can be taken as having a double meaning related to its split nature. In soil science, hardpan is a type of soil that has essentially cemented together, making it very difficult for water to drain and for plants to put down roots, just as Lucky and Brigitte find it difficult to put down roots in the book. The phrase “hard pan” can also refer to the difficult act of panning for rare minerals such as silver. Lucky herself finds it difficult to find—or “pan”—her Higher Power, her metaphorical silver lining.
Hard Pan is fictionally located in California’s Eastern Sierra region, an area Patron frequently visits with her husband. The Eastern Sierras were shaped by a variety of geological forces, including volcanoes and glaciers, and are known for their combination of great beauty and intense austerity. Mono Lake and Death Valley are two of the better known areas in the Eastern Sierras, and both places harbor environments rare and intense, defined by life adapted for few other places...much like Lucky herself.