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Lucky Turtle


Lucky Turtle

LUCKY TURTLE, Bill Roorbach’s latest novel, is a new kind of romance. Dark, dangerous, and threaded with beauty and possibility, it’s the story of the whirlwind affair of two young lovers and the decades they were kept apart.

Sixteen-year-old Cindra Zoeller and Lucky Turtle, who is just a handful of years older, meet at Camp Challenge, a rehabilitation facility for delinquent or criminal girls in Montana. The attraction is immediate, perhaps destined, but both are locked in greater struggles. Faced with family dysfunction, past crimes, and immature yet passionate desires, and against a backdrop of racism and land conflicts, they find themselves living rough in the gorgeous wilds of Montana.

"The tensions don’t simmer here but roil, making for an emotionally challenging, worthwhile and truly special read."

Cindra, tough but incredibly vulnerable, is raised by a rage-filled mother and kindhearted father when she participates in an armed robbery with her adult boyfriend. He is sentenced to 20 years, and after some negotiation between her lawyer, family, and local school and church officials, Cindra is remanded to Camp Challenge until she is 19. Arriving in Elk City, Montana, she is escorted to the Camp (run by frightening former child star Dora Dryden Conover) by the silent and handsome Lucky. Rumor around the camp is that Lucky is deaf, but Cindra assumes him to be a stoic and mysterious Crow hero.

Before hardly any time has passed at Camp Challenge, Cindra is befriended by an imaginative and lonely girl, sexually abused by the camp doctor, locked away in a horrific solitary confinement, and told by Lucky that “my aunt Maria said you will be my wife…. She knows most things.” Confident in his aunt’s prophecy, Lucky breaks Cindra out of her confinement in the Vault, and they run for the Montana wilderness that Lucky knows well.

Aided by Maria and her husband, Clay, Cindra and Lucky enjoy a natural idyll for weeks as the search for them goes on. Hunting and foraging for food and planning a future garden, they live in a small dirt-floor shack, swim in streams and watch the stars move in the night sky. At one point, Clay visits them with supplies and brings Francie, Cindra’s friend from camp, who has recently escaped.

Readers (and Cindra) know that their Eden cannot last. Winter weather is coming, Francie has caught the eye of an unpredictable militiaman, and Cindra is pregnant. The trio are also joined by Lucky’s best friend, the jovial Swede Aarto Johman, and now they are two couples. Plans for the cold days ahead and for welcoming the baby turn to plans for evading Dale Drinkins, the dastardly man with a lust for Francie and a hatred for Lucky.

Of course, Cindra and Lucky are ripped apart, and much of the book is Cindra reaching back over 20-plus years for memories of her brief but seminal time with Lucky.

Roorbach has penned a love letter to the beauty and power of Montana, but he contrasts it with the greed and avarice of those who have tried to tame it, and oppress or eradicate its indigenous people. The characters in LUCKY TURTLE can be understood as symbols for that conflict, but it is a delight to read them just as Roorbach pens them. His style is lovely and lyrical, with interesting turns of phrase and keen observations. The tensions don’t simmer here but roil, making for an emotionally challenging, worthwhile and truly special read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 6, 2022

Lucky Turtle
by Bill Roorbach

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1643753908
  • ISBN-13: 9781643753904