The story is largely about Bernie, a crippled (car rollover) small town criminal in Quebec (the author is from Ottawa and probably grew up with these characters). The actor, writer and costume people have him down perfectly, with the right kind of hair, the right voice and mannerisms, the not too deep mental abilities. He reminds me of some construction workers I have met, though not as smart (or is it luck?). The other characters (used and now wiser young mother, aging bar singer coming up on 30, smart from age and superstitious old woman, and callous young criminal) come off as real people.
Bernie's unhappy jail buddy drug dealer Zak (hates being confined, the sound of the bolts shooting home is like a rattlesnake in his brain, will do anything to get out, including AA, seeing the chaplain, signing up for all programs) wants him to take some money to a Montreal biker gang. Bernie doesn't want to go, but has to when Zak threatens to tell the gang to go after him. Zak is in this trouble because he wanted to get enough money to make a CD as a present for his singer girlfriend, so he had to do a couple of bigger deals instead of the usual weekend small town hotel crowd, which means dealing with the biker gangs.
The other characters get their goals exposed. Bernie gets out of jail, visits his ex-girlfriend and now single mother (who doesn't want Bernie around, yet Bernie has some sort of natural call to see his kid). Bernie also meets up with his dead dad's old female friend, an old energetic woman who's into fake spiritualism and is friendly to Bernie.
There's also Zak's girlfriend singer who is really annoyed that her career isn't going anywhere; she's already spent half of Zak's stash on trying to make a CD. There's a nice monologue where she tears a strip off a show manager for cutting her down to one song in the opener while letting the 16 year old singer have three and the ancient American country singer have his time. Lots of swearing.
The threads come together at the racetrack. Lucky Lady is the horse that Zak's girlfriend blew the remainder of the stash on, after forcing Bernie to tell her what the winning horse was. Bernie knew from the old woman, who had arranged the fix, something she does normally for small bets that won't trigger suspicion. Zak arrives and is annoyed that his stash has vanished. The old woman is annoyed that her scam will be exposed because of the huge bets. Bernie's in the middle, getting shouted at and being blamed as "fucking up" things like he always does.
There's lots of backstabbing and mistakes as people find out who has the money and how it has been spent and how they plan to spend the winnings. In the end they hope to use the winnings to pay off the drug debt, send the old woman to an Indian mountain ritual, help raise the baby and pay for a CD.
That foolish hope is a constant theme in their lives. They hope for good things but won't think too hard about them. Things like Bernie planning to build a car repair garage, right after thinking it up, without worrying about whether he has all the other things needed for a business. The old woman's quest for spiritual fullfillment on a rumoured Wyoming Indian mountain, denying her Italian descent. Or even Zak's drug deal efforts.
The horse race is neck and neck, with fallbacks and recoveries. The group moves indoors at the track to see the photo finish on TV. There are lots of emotional ups and downs, with the old woman saying they lost and others arguing with her. Bernie prays to the Lord (staging shines a white light on him, or is it the TV? :-). Zak steals the ticket from the mother (the only one they could trust to hold it) while the group is watching the TV. The singer notices and goes off to argue with Zak. She finally gets the ticket back by telling him she has sent for the cops. At last, they win by a nose. Bernie is happy that for once he "didn't fuck up".
Copyright © 1997 by Alexander G. M. Smith.