“Confessions Of A Wild Child Lucky: The Early Years” is the latest in the long line of Lucky Santangelo novels by Jackie Collins. The book is different from previous ones in the series in that it is told in the first person, present tense. The novel is hamstrung in terms of suspense and drama because it is a backstory or prequel. The whole book gives you the impression of “been there, done that.”
“Uninhibited” is probably the best word to describe Lucky Santangelo, one of the greatest characters ever created in American storytelling. Collins introduced Lucky in “Chances,” the first book in the Santangelo saga. Lucky was unique right from the outset. She was named after a man, and not just any man but Lucky Luciano, the notorious gangster who helped to organize the structure of New York’s Five Families. She was a heroine who had black hair, dark eyes and olive skin, unlike the fair features usually reserved for an American female protagonist. She was aggressive, independent and almost oblivious to the behavioral norms of society, just like her father, Gino “the Ram” Santangelo. Although quite intelligent, Lucky had an almost childlike inability to control her emotions and impulses. She took anything she wanted anytime she wanted it and had no concept of delayed gratification.
When we first encounter Lucky in “Chances,” she is described by Gino’s friend and attorney as: “Bitch. Child. Liberated lady. Temptress.” During the lengthy and infamous New York City power outage in July 1977, Lucky gets trapped in an elevator many flights up. Incredibly, she offers to have sex with a total stranger who has the misfortune of being stranded on the elevator with the profane and promiscuous Lucky. And she makes her proposal in the most matter-of-fact and bluntest language imaginable. That stranger, Steven Berkely, is a straitlaced African-American prosecuting attorney who turns out to be Lucky’s half brother, the two sharing Gino as a father. The fact that Steven and Lucky don’t consummate what would have been an incestuous relationship is perhaps the first indication that the name “Lucky” is to be taken literally.
Lucky matures, learns and conquers in the remainder of “Chances” and the subsequent novels “Lucky,” “Lady Boss,” “Vendetta: Lucky’s Revenge,” “Dangerous Kiss,” “Drop Dead Beautiful,” and “Goddess Of Vengeance.” Now comes “Confessions Of A Wild Child” that covers the 1965-66 years when Lucky is 15 and 16. The book expands upon the chapters in “Chances” that deal with Gino sending Lucky to exclusive boarding schools with the goal of turning her into a refined young woman who is prepared to become a housewife. But these efforts prove as futile as trying to make a vegetarian out of a lion. Lucky’s feral behavior cannot be curbed. She has never cared for school anyway, but instead wants to be trained to join her father’s legitimate businesses and criminal enterprises that include building and operating Las Vegas hotels and casinos. Lucky’s rich and spoiled classmates have been sent away to elite private schools by their absentee parents who are mostly too busy for their daughters and want to find a convenient place to get them off their hands. Under the influence of these aimless, older girls, Lucky spends her time chasing boys while ignoring her schoolwork. Her crazy experiences while away at school prompt Gino to arrange a marriage for her at age 16 in a last-ditch effort to curtail her wildness.
Any drama in “Confessions Of A Wild Child” is squelched by the fact that we already know the outcome of events. If someone is imperiled we already know if he or she survives. For example, Olympia Stanislopoulos is Lucky’s roommate at the first boarding school. But we already know from “Chances” and “Lucky” what became of her. We know any risky behavior from her in “Confessions” will not be fatal. We know of her later drug use and untimely death, but that comes much later than the time period covered in “Confessions.” We already know of Lucky’s infatuation with Marco, Gino’s right-hand man. We know from “Chances” that years later, when Lucky successfully guides a hotel through construction and a grand opening, she will finally make her dreams come true by bedding Marco to celebrate her accomplishments. And we know the very next day Lucky will experience the horror of Marco being slain gangland style on the orders of Santangelo frenemy, Enzio Bonnatti. So if there are any sparks between Marco and Lucky in “Confessions Of A Wild Child,” we already know they will lead to nothing at that juncture. We know from “Chances” of Lucky’s complicated and tense relationship with her younger brother Dario, and that Bonnatti has Dario killed after tricking him into an abortive attempt to eliminate Gino and Lucky. And for all of Lucky’s attempts at 15 and 16 to lead the baby boomer lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll, we were already told in “Chances” that she practices the “Almost” method and stops just short of going all the way. “Chances” and “Lucky” make “Confessions Of A Wild Child” seem contrived and a rehash.
Unless Collins was prepared to do what the nighttime soap “Dallas” did years ago when they killed off Bobby Ewing only to bring him back a year later with the implausible excuse that the entire previous year had been Pam Ewing’s dream, then “Confessions Of A Wild Child” can break no new ground or alter past events.
“Confessions Of A Wild Child,” Jackie Collins, St. Martin’s Press, 2014
“Chances,” Jackie Collins, Grand Central Publishing, 1975, 1980