Title: The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns
Author: Elizabeth Leiknes
Publisher: Bancroft Press
Publishing Date: June 15, 2009
Hardcover: 167 pages
Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone
Why did I read the book: The publisher contacted us with a review request. The thing is: his email was SO clever and it was so attentive to WHO we are, it meant that clearly he went to great lengths to find out about our blog ( the subject line of the email read: A Fix for the Book-Addicted Smugglers) that even though general fiction is not something I usually ready, I decided to give it a go. And I am SO glad I did.
Summary: Lucy Burns wants a normal life: friends, love, and a family of her own. And she could have it all if only she could break free from the job she hates.
That job? Facilitator to hell.
And her boss is a real devil.
It is not always that I find myself without words – like I am now. I had no expectations about The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns and I am happy to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is and how much I enjoyed reading it.
The story is basically a tale about a Faustian bargain between an unsuspecting 11 year old and the devil. As any good old tale, it comes without specifics of how exactly the bargain works but that is ok. To question the specifics of a tale such as this, is akin to wonder about how exactly the witch in Hansel and Gretel built a house made of gingerbread – you just accept the rules and hope for the story to work. And The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns works – at all levels.
When Lucy Burns was 11 years old, her sister Ellen got hit by a truck and went into a coma with little hope to survive. A desperate Lucy then promptly wrote a letter to “To Whom it May Concern” saying that if Ellen woke up she will be forever in debt and posted it in the “magical” mailbox that the kids had (where letters to Santa Claus were posted) . Ellen wakes up and Lucy finds a letter that says “It’s a Deal”. And so it is.
20 years later, Lucy is a Facilitator to Hell. She dispatches souls (chosen by the devil and listed by her Supervisor) through a gate in her basement with the help of her Dog/Hound, Pluto. What really strikes as a pretty nasty job is the fact that every person she has to take down the basement, comes to her door not knowing what is going to happen and she needs to work some mojo to make them go.
The job comes with its perks though: some powers, immortality and on her birthday, she gets to make a wish. From being gorgeous, to being able to eat as much chocolate as she wants without putting on weight, she has it all. The only thing she can’t ask for and isn’t allowed to have is a romantic relationship because…that complicates things. She is allowed to have as much sex as she wants, but only once with each partner. As soon as she gets in the sack with someone, she feels the urge to vomit which prevents her for seeing someone ever again. She had to break off with her family (how ironic and so freaking sad – that she got into this life to protect her sister but she can’t never see her again ) and she is very lonely indeed except for her friendly neighbour and her son.
Although some of the people are pretty nasty and well, deserve to go to hell (like the neighbour who is a baby killer) , some of them don’t even come close in the level evilness – some, not at all. Lucy goes through the motions of her role, without seemingly being bothered by it. Does she not rebel? Does she not struggle? Yes and no. As with any bargain with the Devil there is no easy way out, and for Lucy there is even something else that allows her to go along – and it has something to do with a Black Envelope. It doesn’t mean though that she doesn’t feel – she does, and sometimes she needs thorough cleaning – provided by the Snow White Car Wash.
But I am way ahead of the story and ahead of myself. For her latest birthday, Lucy asks to be reacquainted with an old friend – and she gets back her old albums by artist Teddy Nightingale – famous singer-song writer- whom she grew up listening to and whose words spoke deeply to her own soul. Her friend buys her tickets to see Teddy on a revival show and it is Teddy who is the “shadow of hope” of this tale as he tells her that there is a way out ( I am not telling you how he knows that), a loophole and that she must finish three tasks in order to do so. Two things then propel Lucy to get out even as she wonders if there is salvation for her: the prospect of having a relationship with Luke Marshall and the intel she comes by when she finally gets to read a series of unopened letters from her sister.
Look at me, it seems I finally found the words and they keep coming to me. Luke Marshall is a wonderful character – a blind, creative writing teacher who is struggling to finish his own book. Luke is a secondary character that doesn’t have a point of view and who is not in many pages and it is a clear sign of talent that the writer manages to make him such a rich, full of life character. Although he is perfect for Lucy , he is also a complex, flawed character. He walks around with his pretty and rugged face (in an anti-Ken doll kind of way, according to Lucy) and his candy-cane with red-and-white stripes and you would never guess what is behind the façade. Thankfully for us, Lucy is the sort of woman that crosses the line so very often (hey, she works for the devil!) and steals a disk with his manuscript :
“The vast majority of Teddy Nightingale’s songs are about love. And that fact justified stealing Luke’s manuscript.
Yeah, I took it.
Because when she does so, it opens up a door to some quality, meaningful writing:
“I’d been scared I wouldn’t like his work, but I did. I wondered if he liked lots of personal space the same way he liked lots of white space on the page, or if I should move in closer”
And to a profoundly disturbing and yet, amazingly insightful look into Luke’s psyche. It is by looking into one folder inside the disk – a folder which I call The Shinning Folder – that we and Lucy discover more of him and that happens with the clever use of…. Fonts. Nothing is said in a straightforward manner but these fonts, they are there and they mean a lot. I love Luke (and dear lord, the scene with the guitar is pure cuteness) but above all I loved Lucy and I loved the clever writing.
The most impressive thing is how at only 167 pages, the book is so full of nuances and depth. There are no wasted words, no info dump and the author cleverly relies on the reader to catch the deep and hidden meanings of her work. It is one of those books that require attention and a certain rapport between the reader and the book –if there is detachment, there will be no enjoyment and for you to truly, really enjoy this story, there’s gotta be a certain degree of involvement. Mine occurred in those moments when I read about her relationship with her sister (which happen in short flashbacks that permeate the story) – my sister is the person I love most in the world but also the person I “hated” the most when I was a child and I completely related to Lucy through every step of her way.
The thing is: the more you give the more you will take from this book. This is a story that is not for everybody as even though this is a tale about Heaven and Hell the lines of Good x Evil are not as clear as many, I am sure, would like. You will not finish reading the book with a final “and the moral of the story is” nor will the climax be full of the answers you might need, but you may well finish it like I did: with a huge smile on my face and tears falling from my eyes.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: Oh, the moment she opens and reads the letter in the Black Envelope. It was so horrific and yet so sad. I understood EVERYTHING then. Also, Luke and his choices of restaurant; a woman called Venice (HA! That was so funny!); Finn and Teddy; The Gay Parade. So so many things.
Additional Thoughts: I guess the best possible compliment I could give to this book is the fact that as I read it, I kept thinking of the wonderful and weird stories in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors. Since he is my favourite author, that says a lot.
Verdict: It made me laugh and it made me cry. The writing is clever and I can’t wait to read more from this author.
Rating: 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Don’t Tempt Me by Loretta Chase