“The Good Luck Stone,” by Heather Bell Adams

Heather Bell Adams

To an outsider, ninety-year-old Audrey Thorpe’s life appears to resemble a fairytale nearing its end, the only conflict caused by her granddaughter Deanna, who thinks Audrey should no longer live alone. But the protagonist in Heather Bell Adams’s novel, The Good Luck Stone, (Haywire Books 2020) is burdened by a dark secret and crippling guilt that will send her stumbling down a rabbit hole to confront decisions she hoped were long forgotten and buried. The novel perfectly illustrates William Faulkner’s well-known quotation, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The story veers between two contrasting settings: the civilized beauty of Savannah with storied landmarks like Christ Church and Telfair Square and the dreadful bombing and Japanese occupation that turn the Philippine Islands into a nightmare during World War II.

In the first scene, an art exhibition of Philippine artifacts arouses disturbing memories that unsettle Audrey. She is wearing a jade brooch which hasn’t seen the light of day since the war. Dizzy from her memories, Audrey breaks the brooch’s clasp and its pin draws blood. She is so shaken, she doesn’t recognize her granddaughter’s husband Neal and misinterprets his question, “What’s the verdict?” He is asking her opinion on the exhibition’s quality. Instead, she believes someone is passing judgment on her. She seems unsteady on her feet and perhaps emotionally unstable as well, adding fuel to Deanna’s insistence that Audrey shouldn’t live alone. The relationship between Audrey and Deanna is already troubled. Audrey thinks Deanna is a snob, obsessed by social class. Deanna behaves as if Audrey is senile, and Audrey resents it: “Her granddaughter often spoke to her the same way she spoke to her ten-year-old son.”

Although Audrey worries accepting a caregiver into her home is conceding her limitations, she immediately likes the woman her granddaughter wants to hire. Laurel is “forthright and genuine.” For the first time in decades, Audrey feels connection to a friend, something missing in her life since the war years when she befriended two fellow Army nurses. She also bonds with Laurel’s son Oliver, a dyslexic boy who needs the special classes a private school can offer, classes Laurel can’t afford without the caregiver job. Audrey agrees to having a caregiver as much to help Laurel and Oliver as to help herself. She begins to tell Oliver of her war experiences for a history project he is doing for school.

Though Audrey married her close friend and neighbor and spends her old age arranging charity fundraisers and doting on her great-grandson Ford, she hints at a deep sorrow to Laurel: “I want him (Ford) to have more than I ever had. . . . I want him to have friends, to find love.” This confession makes clear Audrey’s life has been no fairytale.

Much of the story is told in flashback chapters of Audrey’s days as a nurse in the Philippines and the close friends she acquires. Kat is polished and neat but comes from a deprived background. Penny is plump and well-off. The three declare they are “in it together.” They each wear a jade brooch Penny gives them to symbolize their friendship. The stone is supposed to bring good luck and surround the wearer with a shield of protection. While working as a nurse, Audrey falls in love with a doctor. When the army asks for volunteers to go to hospital at Fort Stotsenburg, which is closer to the action than Manila Bay, the three nurses volunteer. “No matter what happens, and goodness knows we haven’t got a road map for any of it, we stay by each other,” Penny says. “The unbreakable three.”  But war has a way of breaking everything. Even close friendships. Even love.

Adams slowly spools out the mystery of what happened in the Philippines that has caused Audrey to carry such guilt all these years later. The secret is so dire, Audrey believes she won’t be allowed to see her great-grandson any longer once the truth is known. Worse, she thinks she will lose his affection altogether.

When two letters arrive with a newspaper photo from the exhibition where Audrey is wearing her unique jade brooch, she knows she has to act fast. On her own, she takes off on a journey to see if she can finally explain the impossible choices she was forced to make and set things right before it is too late.

The Good Luck Stone is a story filled with the history of the war in the Pacific theater, a history less often told than that of the European theater.  A story of excruciating loss and noble sacrifice. A story of the guilt survivors often bury deep within their hearts. A story well worth reading.

Heather Bell Adams’s first novel, Maranatha Road (West Virginia University Press 2017), won the gold medal for the Southeast region in the Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named to Deep South Magazine’s Fall/Winter Reading List. Her short fiction, which has won the James Still Fiction Prize and Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award, appears in The Thomas Wolfe ReviewPembroke MagazineBroad River ReviewThe Petigru ReviewPisgah Review, and elsewhere. A native of Hendersonville, North Carolina, she currently is an attorney living in Raleigh.

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  1. This is so lovely and thoughtful – thank you!!

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