In Dana Precious’ first novel “Born Under a Lucky Moon,” (2011 HarperCollins) the printing of the title’s slightly upward skewed first line, “Born Under,” is a sign of what will follow. This clearly autobiographical novel is a roller-coaster family life that stays on track because of their definition of family.
What will be immediately obvious and appealing to West Michigan readers are continual references particularly Muskegon businesses and locations, but also other Michigan cities and colleges. The California references are literally another story.
The plot technique is the frame story. This is alternating chapters of events twenty years apart: family events in 1986 in Muskegon and events in Jeannie’s (the main character) life in 2006 in Hollywood/Los Angeles. An immediate sign of her writing ability is that in spite of the time shifts, she avoids the readers’ usual “I don’t know who or what is going on” by a defining Prologue, and then the novel’s major speaking voice, in both locations, is predominantly the main character, Jeannie.
As the plot develops, regardless of the year, the pace of action is breathtaking. To quote Precious: “high speed,” “high pressure,” “fevered energy.” And that will take the reader at mach speed through a family story of complicated weddings, a senile grandmother who blazes her own “unique” trail, and interpersonal family crises.
While at the same time, all these crises are replicated, in living color, in the 2006 chapters of Jeannie’s work as a writer and hand-holder of spoiled, nasty actors in a Hollywood movie studio. The critical point here for the replication, is that in spite of family crises, the members do not want to crucify each other, they are there for each other in situations that can border on the bizarre, but they will get through them.
Precious has the brother Ivan character bring out an interesting analysis of why the family acts as it does. He uses the refracted image of Milwaukee that one can see in West Michigan if the atmosphere is just right to describe how their family operates. They “see” the lights of Milwaukee, “but no, it was not really there. Too many people forget the facts in their life and want to believe the mirage that’s presented to them.” (P. 271)
A prophetic analysis because that marks the beginning of “Part III – Breakup and Breakdown” where, relying on mirages in both 1986 and 2006, the results are disasters of Shakespearean magnitude.
Jeannie is fortunate that she does not have families like King Lear or the Houses of Lancaster or York. She decides to return to Muskegon; the movie studio can solve its own problems. A good choice because the family, especially her brother, becomes the problem-solver by rejecting mirages, and brings the “real thing” to Jeannie.