The Luck of Ginger Coffey

by Brian Moore
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

The Luck of Ginger Coffey was Brian Moore’s third novel, and its setting is the Canada of the late 1950’s, a promising new world for immigrants willing to try their luck north of the Canadian-American border. Like Moore himself, James Francis (Ginger) Coffey has arrived in Canada from Ireland, certain that this land of opportunity will recognize his innate abilities and provide him and his family with a better life. As the story opens, however, Ginger is on the verge of a harsh confrontation with reality. Broke, unemployed, and caught in a snowballing series of lies to his wife, Veronica, he has spent their savings to pay off several debts and has no money to purchase the family’s return tickets to Ireland—a fact which forces him to make one last, desperate attempt to find a job.

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The reality of Ginger’s situation, however, is that he is actually qualified for very little, and his employment applications are a shaky construction of half-truths and exaggerations. Over the course of several days, his problems worsen as he is forced to accept a low-paying proofreader’s job and later learns that Gerald (Gerry) Grosvenor, the friend who helped him obtain the position, may be having an affair with his wife. When Veronica leaves him to seek a life of her own, Ginger finds his private world unraveling rapidly and his dreams of success in Canada fading. Now jealous of the affections of the wife he had come to take for granted and pained by the loss of closeness with his teenage daughter, Paulie, Ginger throws himself into his work with newfound determination. Securing a second job as a driver for a diaper delivery service, he persuades Paulie to move with him into a small flat that he has rented. His encounters with Veronica and Gerry remain anguished and embarrassing, however, and Paulie’s primary reason for choosing to live with her father seems to be the freedom from supervision that his overworked schedule affords her.

Concern for their daughter’s welfare leads Veronica to move back in with her family on a temporary basis, a turn of events which Ginger hopes will lead to a permanent reconciliation. Veronica, however, is bitterly disillusioned after years of listening to her husband’s grandiose plans, and Ginger, stung by her criticism, promises her that if the promotion from proofreader to reporter that he expects does not take place, he will withdraw from her life and leave her to Gerry. The promotion does fall through, and Ginger is arrested, after leaving a bar, for relieving himself in front of a hotel. After a night in jail and a suspended sentence, he is reunited with Veronica, who now believes in the sincerity of his feelings for her and who has broken with Gerry after he reacted callously to Ginger’s arrest. Realizing. that he will never achieve more in life than a modest existence, Ginger decides to accept a desk job with the diaper service, effectively lowering his sights but regaining his family and finally accepting his own limitations.

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