Stephanie Lansky is a privileged child in a dangerous country. Her parents, whom she has overheard dismissing rumours of guerrillas and civil war, leave to visit rich, powerful friends in the countryside. They never return. The domestic staff disappear. The telephones stop working. The power stops. By the time a man dressed in rags appears at the door and invites Stephanie to leave with him, we understand that everything is about to be taken away from her. ‘Lucky’ is part of Pachico’s interlinked short story collection The Lucky Ones, set in Colombia between 2003 and 2013. Context is slowly drip-fed into these stories – including ‘Lucky’ – and you come to understand the Colombian conflict through diverse, distorted perspectives. The stories don’t pretend to present a cohesive picture of Colombia’s civil conflict, but the implicit arguments concerning power and privilege that underly it are consistent and powerful. Reading ‘Lucky’, the complexity of my feelings about Stephanie – she is spoiled, sympathetic, infuriatingly helpless, half-innocent – speaks to the depth of Pachico’s understanding of the world she is describing.
First published in The Lucky Ones, Faber & Faber, 2017, and available to read on the Faber website here
Tom graduated in 2013 from an MA cohort that included several other writers who’ve since gone on to publish their debut novels or collections: Ayobami Adebayo, Marie-Elsa Bragg, Paul Cooper, Lisa Owens, Julianne Pachico, Sara Taylor and Sharlene Teo. I was fortunate in my workshop group, which included Tom, Lisa, Julianne, and Kiare Ladner, who was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC National Short Story Award. Like Tom’s ‘Bolt’, we read Julie’s ‘Lucky’ in its first draft, and like Tom’s story it needed very little redrafting. Set a world away from sleepy Caerphilly in narcotic Columbia – where Julie spent much of her childhood – this is the first in a sequence of suspenseful, hallucinatory short stories (marketed in the US as a novel) that are connected by theme but differentiated by Julie’s extraordinary technical dexterity. Here a privileged teenager is left alone for the weekend in a comfortable home whose housekeeper and chauffeur have gone missing and whose protective bars are also imprisoning. She may be safe from the stranger who is hammering at the door. She may well be trapped. Increasingly her situation becomes menacing; increasingly the title is revealed as ironical.
First published in Lighthouse 5. Collected in The Best British Short Stories 2015, Salt, and The Lucky Ones, Faber & Faber, 2017
This is story is not overtly surreal, magical or supernatural, at least not in the manner of Kafka or Can Xue, but it shares something with these writers — a sense of real-life being lived as science fiction. ‘The Bird Thing’ is full of suggestion and possibility, built through texture, light and colour: ‘The bird thing has just left. You can tell even before you open the door. The pot has boiled over; the stovetop is covered with a strange white crust, the egg cracked open and cooked away into a frothy grey mist.’ I ought to add that Pachico is my friend, but when you read this story you’ll know it’s earned its place.
(First published in The White Review, 2015. Read online.)