Books

‘Lucky’s’: Andrew Pippos’ ambitious and unforgettable debut

Lucky’s is the sprawling and vivid debut from Andrew Pippos: the story of a man who creates a sanctuary for himself but can’t escape his deceptions.

The first page of Lucky’s (Pan Macmillan) finds the central character, Vasilis ‘Lucky’ Mallios, “stripping rigani from the stalks.” He thinks about the future, but he’s already crammed several lives into his time on earth.

From these simple beginnings, Andrew Pippos relays the tale of Lucky in wide, concentric circles, that contract toward the present as he eventually reckons with his past. This story of second chances, like Lucky himself, has more than a few surprises in store.

Andrew Pippos

Of Greek heritage, but a native of Chicago, Lucky Mallios was a less-than-celebrated member of the US Army, marooned in Sydney toward the end of the Second World War. Somewhat of a failed, yet simultaneously aspiring clarinettist, he and a friend concocted a ruse to impersonate one of the most famous musicians of the jazz age, Benny Goodman.

Meanwhile, in another time and place, Emily Main has lost her way. With a stalled journalistic career and a marriage in freefall, she takes a chance on a long shot-pitch — an extended piece on a relatively obscure restaurant chain called Lucky’s —  to an old friend at The New Yorker.

The pitch is successful. And in the midst of life-implosion, she finds herself on a long haul flight from London to Sydney. Spurred on by a mysterious painting of a Lucky’s restaurant — gifted to her by her late father — Emily is also attempting to face down the ghosts of her past and get some answers. Her first stop on the trail: Lucky Mallios.

While performing his Benny Goodman impersonation, Lucky met Valia, whom he would marry, along with the family business. It was just one of the ubiquitous Greek cafes that populated Australia’s Eastern seaboard in the early 20th century and it was the seed from which the Lucky’s empire grew.

Lucky's book cover

Despite setting up a non-linear narrative, Lucky’s feels anything but contrived — the opposite in fact. The fates of individuals and entire families are hinged on events that are spread out across the decades; it’s testament to the ability of Pippos that he was able to bridge the epochs so naturally.

As the story continues, Pippos skillfully draws the past and present together. Emily, doggedly following her journalistic instincts, knows that her story and Lucky’s are more entwined than he wants to admit. Lucky, attempting to evade the past while curiously attempting to revive his halcyon days, is on an inexorable path toward his own truth.

Is the volatility of this novel reflected in every family? Possibly not. But with Lucky’s, Pippos has gripped the very essence of family — the love, the tragedy, the pain, the humour — and fashioned it into a web of equally compelling arcs. The end result is a book effervescent with life.

Lucky’s is out now via Pan Macmillan.