Lucky Strike

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her first novel, The Metal Shredders (2002), Nancy Zafris explored the lives of Ohio scrap-metal workers. For her second, she selected an even more unusual setting: the Utah desert in the 1950's, when uranium prospectors expected every day to strike it rich. The title Lucky Strike refers to the hopes of the oddly assorted people who inhabit Zafris's book. It also suggests how futile the search will prove, at least for most of them, for the Lucky Strike Geiger counter that is sold to naive prospectors is totally worthless.

Zafris tells her story through the eyes of two newcomers, the recently widowed Jean Waterman, who has moved with her son and her ten-year-old daughter Beth, and an old hand, Harry Lindstrom. Jean has come to Utah partly in the hope of striking it rich, partly because she knows that her twelve-year-old son Charlie needs an adventure to take his mind off the disease that makes it so hard for him to breathe.

Although the chivalrous Harry sees himself as Jean's protector, he cannot get rid of the vulgar Leonard Dawson and his browbeaten wife Jo, who have invaded the Watermans’ campsite. However, Harry does take Jo and the three Watermans into town for the relative comfort of the motel run by the kindly Belinda Dazzle.

Though several of the characters in this novel would do anything for a lucky strike, even the greediest of them does not comprehend the dangers of radiation. Although it ends without a clear resolution, Lucky Strike reveals so much about human nature and human limitations that it is not easily forgotten.