For this round of 'Norman Asks' we are joined by our university’s very own Andrew Pippos!
Like most of our bookworms, Andrew once walked the corridors of UTS as a student. He went on to receive a doctorate in Creative Writing and now tutors the new generation of budding writers honing their skills at UTS.
Andrew also has the title of ‘former journalist’ under his belt and is no stranger to literary festival circuits or established literary journals/magazines, having been featured in both.
Norman the Bookworm waved Andrew over to In the Margin to speak about his debut novel, Lucky’s. A family saga that traverses generations to find meaning in the mundane, Lucky’s was shortlisted for a plethora of prestigious awards, including the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award, and recently won the 2021 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.
Let’s dig deeper into this successful debut work with Andrew himself.
Andrew: The publication of my first book is a significant experience and will remain one of the landmarks in my life, along with the birth of a child, the death of a parent, and other griefs and ruptures and wonders. Not every experience is reducible to a lesson, but it’s true that in the past year I’ve discovered a few things about other people, about an industry and about myself. It isn’t all good. What’s important to me is this: every week I’ve heard from readers who enjoyed or got something out of my novel. The interaction between reader and book is profound, miraculous even. Perhaps their messages have subtly altered the way I view strangers. And I’ve finally learnt an important lesson: enjoy the good things that happen to you and stop asking: What else?
Andrew: I was conscious of letting the characters be themselves. I resisted the urge to soften Penelope’s edges, to make Valia more sensitive, not as headstrong, and to make Sophia less of her mother’s daughter. I was conscious of allowing Emily to be vulnerable and, at times, unsure of herself, because human beings are like that. In this way I’m like Emily, too.
I am inspired by the women in my life. But there are no real-world correspondents to the female characters in Lucky's.
Andrew: The world is still a violent place, and such brutality has the power to change people’s lives. Force might be the oldest and most canonical of literary themes.
Given the broad timeframe of Lucky’s, it was acceptable to me that such a narrative included multiple violent events. Some of the family stories I inherited – about violence on the café floor – ended up in the Achillion chapters. Those old cafes served food from breakfast until well into the evening. Drunk, violent people came in. The Greeks in the kitchen were armed with clubs. That’s how it was.
In terms of violent acts that alter the trajectory of the story, there are three such episodes: the violence of Achilles; the fire at the Achillion; and the Third of April. Lucky’s dwells more on the consequences of these events than on the violent actions themselves. And non-violent events are crucial to the plot as well. For example: Lucky’s decision to play Benny Goodman; Valia leaving Lucky; the sale of the franchise; Valia and Lucky’s thwarted reconciliation; and the circumstances that bring Lucky and Sophia and Jamie and Emily together at the end. In that living room in Tempe they forge a kind of family – the community that Lucky longed for. They begin a new story, which extends beyond the frame of the novel. Lucky is starting over when he finally picks up the clarinet. He gets to be the person he always wanted to be: a man who is part of a family.
I can talk about the function of the violence. The task of those Achilles scenes is to represent an outdated form of masculinity – the machismo culture of southern Europe. Through those scenes the narrative dramatises how such a code of behaviour can destroy a family. At first Achilles directs his frustration towards his family, whom he drives away. Then he redirects this violence to the wider world. The world, for him, largely consists of his customers. In short, he blames other people for his problems. In reality, he is a victim of himself.
The Third of April is an instance of external causation; it’s the world intruding on Lucky’s; a bomb goes off and the novel follows the consequences. External causation is part of life (e.g. Covid-19). Unexpected events interrupt our lives and destroy our plans. The Third of April results in the closure of the last restaurant. The catastrophe leads to Lucky’s self-destruction by gambling. It’s the banner that hangs over his life. Now he wants to begin again, to start a new restaurant, and do everything right this time with the people who matter most. He wants family, he wants community again. As for Emily: her editor, Liam, admits he might not have commissioned the story without the violent part of the tale. Later, the Third of April becomes the subject of her first book.
There is no resolution to the Third of April. There’s no mystery to be answered: there’s no second shooter to be discovered. A terrible thing happens, and everyone is left to pick up the pieces for the rest of their lives.
Andrew: I think if the reader is inclined to other the migrant Greeks, then this psychological process will occur in the chapters in which Emily does not appear. Emily is absent from most of the book, and while she’s a POV character and she’s writing about the franchise, the overall novel is not framed by her perspective. The temporal movements into the past are not impelled by her enquiries. If the reader is the othering type, well, they have ample opportunities to other the Café Greeks.
The novel is also about legacy. It’s about how the past intrudes on the present. Emily is part of the Lucky’s story in significant ways. The franchise would not exist without her father’s actions. Her visit to Sydney is part of a larger convergence, within the narrative, of the many legacies of the Lucky’s café.
The motif of the double is repeated throughout the book, and there is a form of mirroring between Emily and Lucky. In 2002, Emily and Lucky are engaged in parallel tasks. Both are struggling with the burden of loss, both have their missing people. And while they’re stuck in different periods of life, they are engaged in a similar project: they’re chasing a second chance. After much failure and disappointment, they’re trying to obtain the thing they want most, and to address their problems with the past.
Andrew: I enjoyed spending time with my characters (even Achilles), and sometimes I have a bad day and miss working on the novel. But the characters don’t exist, for me, outside the fictional world. I cannot imagine it being otherwise. We can never hang out on an island.