Beginners Luck

July 24, 2017

Someday I’m going to learn to stop reading a book when it’s about listless, unhappy people doing nothing of interest. But I haven’t yet, so I made it all the way through Beginners Luck, by Emily Hahn.

I don’t want to say this is a bad book. There’s a lot in it that feels real and insightful. It just doesn’t really build to anything.

There are three main characters: teenager Blake is in Santa Fe to spend the summer with his mother after getting kicked out of an Eastern boarding school for being an arty non-conformist. Teddy, a little older, ran away from his family in the midwest to become an artist, but is too caught up Santa Fe social scene to get much work done. Gin came to town looking for excitement, but doesn’t seem to be finding it in her job as a tour guide, or in dating locals and drinking too much.

All three are worried and dissatisfied in various ways, only some of which are explained. We know that Blake dreads going back to school, that Teddy is worried about money, and that Gin is frustrated because the men she knows are only interested in sex, but I don’t know what they want instead and neither to they. That’s realistic, but it’s not fun to read about.

Their mutual disaffection draws them together, and then they get pretty excited about the idea of running away to Mexico together. You know it’s not going to work out, and it doesn’t.

Mostly nothing happens, and I don’t really know what Hahn is trying to say, unless it’s that life isn’t so good and everything is futile. But you know what? I do not need the help of a book to think those thoughts. So, thanks but no thanks, Emily Hahn.


  1. After that description, I was not expecting to click on the link and see a book that old. I thought it might be from the sixties, actually. I may add it to my slush pile and try it out sometime, but now I won’t feel too badly if I end up bailing.

    • The setting might be the most interesting part–it sort of would make more sense in the sixties, and because it’s the thirties it feels sort of interestingly transgressive.

  2. It would be interesting to read a book set in Santa Fe during this time period. But this one sounds pretty awful.

    • The setting is pretty interesting, and if this book is worth reading, that’s what it’s worth reading for. There’s some interesting and uncomfortable stuff about the native New Mexicans that Hahn didn’t really go into.

  3. The funny thing is Emily Hahn wrote a wonderful travelogue called China to Me about her time in Shanghai & China right before the war.

    So if you see that you may want to give her another try.

    • I read a little about her, and she seems to have had an enormously exciting life. She wrote this before she started travelling, so maybe she gained some perspective later.

  4. Too bad — “All China To Me” is a pretty good read.

    • I can believe it–I think she’s a good writer, and maybe pulling material from her life instead of making stuff up is what she needed. Also I think she was pretty young when she wrote this one.

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