Friendship, Betrayal, and #MeToo in Helen Schulman’s ‘Lucky Dogs’

Lee Polevoi


Lucky Dogs

By Helen Schulman


321 pages


“I tend to surf the zeitgeist as I write,” says novelist Helen Schulman. “I write alongside history as it unfolds, creating a kind of time capsule of current events—a historical fiction of now.”


This is certainly true of Lucky Dogs, the author’s provocative new novel about sexual assault and #MeToo. A famous B-list actress named Meredith Montgomery seeks anonymous refuge in Paris, after experiencing traumatic sexual abuse from a world-renowned movie producer, known here as “the Rug.” This producer, who like his real-life counterpart, will soon be exposed as a serial offender, is easily identifiable to anyone aware of recent turmoil in the film industry.


In Paris, Meredith hides out from tabloid reporters and anyone else who might show an interest in her. At the same time, she’s becoming increasingly lonely, given to long walks through arrondisements and too much time spent surfing the web.



One day, Meredith buys a scoop of ice cream from a kiosk across the street from Notre-Dame, “that insanely magnificent cathedral.” She strikes up a conversation with another woman, attractively dressed, with cheekbones “so sharp they could slice a snacking ham.” A pair of middle-aged “American cowboys” waiting in line behind them initiate an encounter that quickly turns ugly and confrontational. Meredith’s new friend is subjected to their harassment, until Meredith calls them on it and the other woman produces a switchblade.


That’s enough to send the cowboys fleeing, but the incident triggers Meredith’s residual panic and anger from prior bad encounters:


“… I could feel my heart’s keyboard tapping oddball messages inside my chest: Let me die before they hurt me, let me die before they hurt me. I hadn’t even thanked my Good Samaritan for coming to my defense. This was because I a) was unused to kindness, b) had lost the ability to speak, or c) didn’t want my ice cream to melt. Answer: all and none of the above. I was so wigged out; I was on autopilot.”



In the days to come, Meredith bonds with her rescuer, Nina Willis, and a young Frenchman, Jean-Pierre. They enjoy drinking fine wine, sampling the best of French cuisine, and roaming the streets of the City of Light. Thrilled with these new friends, Meredith impulsively shares a sheaf of pages she’s written about the Rug and his violent behavior. She’s further delighted when Nina and Jean-Pierre respond to enthusiastically to what she’s written.


Sadly, as in the real-life counterpart, things aren’t what they seem. Nina is, in fact, an ex-Mossad agent (most likely hired by the Rug) to befriend Meredith and persuade her to share her potentially damaging pages.


From there, we learn more about the ex-Mossad agent code-named “Nina,” a Bosnian refugee named Samara Marjanovic, working for a sinister organization called Dark Star. (The real-life firm, Black Cube, investigated victims on behalf of the notorious producer.) Schulman graphically describes Samara’s childhood and young adult experiences in that war-torn country, what led her to Israel and, later, into undercover work-for-hire.



Following Meredith’s first-person, “tell-all” voice, the harrowing scenes in Bosnia are a sharp twist in narrative tone and style. These alternating parts coexist uneasily within the arc of Lucky Dogs. Some readers may find themselves drawn more to one of the two main protagonists rather than both. And characterizations of a few secondary individuals, such as the actress’s agent and manager, remain fairly thin on the ground.


The references and buzzwords Meredith employs in telling her story (NDA, TMZ, cisgender, Instagram, “oppositional defiant disorder”) are certainly up-to-the-minute expressions of cultural effluvia. Inevitably, however, what’s of-the-moment must pass, as all moments pass, leaving the reader to occasionally wonder: Is there such a thing as being too topical?


Author Bio:

Highbrow Magazine chief book critic Lee Polevoi’s new novel, The Confessions of Gabriel Ash, has just been published.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:

--SocialButterflyMMG (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--12019 (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--Cottonbro Studio (Pexels, Creative Commons)



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