Luck: Essays

Image of Luck
Release Date: 
October 16, 2023
New Village Press
Reviewed by: 

“every essay, whether one agrees or not with the views expressed, is a pleasure to read and always thought provoking.”

Luck is a collection of short prose essays written by Margaret Randall and illustrated (though it is stressed that these do not actually illustrate points being made in the essays) by Barbara Byers, Randall’s partner of 37 years.

Margaret Randall, born 1936 in New York, is an American writer, photographer, feminist activist, and academic. She lived for many years in Spain, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua, and spent time in North Vietnam during the last months of the U.S. war in that country. She has produced nearly 200 books of prose and poetry.

In this collection of essays she is straightforwardly determined to set down clearly and for the record what she thinks on a variety of topics. One of her strongest tenets expressed in several individual pieces throughout the collection is that it is not sufficient to “just be yourself” (unless perhaps you are a blond, blue-eyed, elite and eternally youthful male) but you must also “make and do”; “The verb to be may rise to meet us as default, but one truth appears with absolute certainty: without the making and doing, simply being is never enough.”

As may be expected after such a long and distinguished career Randall writes fluently and engagingly, and from time to time with humor. Examples of the latter are to be found in the chapter “Lies” where she reflects on the routine nature of lying in our societies at all levels and on all topics; “How are the kids? Doing well (although the eldest may have a heroin habit and the youngest just failed algebra).” This is however a collection to be dipped into rather than read straight through.

Sequentially, many themes recur. Several essays concern her parents’ marriage, apparently unsatisfactory to both parties, though never dissolved, and her more robust attitude in abandoning six previous relationships with men, when she became sure that they were not going anywhere. She has four children, ten great-grandchildren and two great- grandchildren.

In general, the more purely personal the essay the more vibrant and engaging it is. Among these we can count her explanation of the relief and gratitude she feels that the COVID pandemic has reduced, though by no means eliminated, the routine casual hug between the merest acquaintances or even strangers, and provided her with her (routine) excuse, “I’m not hugging yet.” She wonders, “Will my excuse die an awkward death or will I walk free?”

Along the same lines is her abhorrence regarding Facebook and elsewhere of the habit of “friending,” though she did amass her limit of 5,000 Facebook friends before rebelling! “I just don’t warm to the idea that a perfect stranger may become a friend simply by requesting the status. I have had to defriend more than one person after reading a post that goes against everything I believe. A friend, to me, is still a beloved being, member of an honored category, a relationship born of shared experience and values.”

Her thoughts on Anger, Counting, Fear, and Flavors are equally heartfelt and cogently expressed as are the two essays on Luck from which the publication takes its name. Some of the more abstract or sociological musings are often less coherent. And her musings on memory, spiritual visitations, ghosts, and the afterlife will probably have the strongest appeal to readers in her own age group. But every essay, whether one agrees or not with the views expressed, is a pleasure to read and always thought provoking.