It’s a fantasy we’ve all imagined—winning the lottery. Most of us know exactly which debts we’d pay off first, what we’d buy, and who we’d help out if we found ourselves instant millionaires. But we’ve also heard story after story of a winning gone wrong—cautionary tales that highlight humanity’s greed. How money can make us even more miserable once we have it.
Bill Cotter’s winding world of The Splendid Ticket provides a different spin on the lottery fantasy. Dean Lee and Angie Grandet have been in a rut since their youngest daughter, Sophie, was killed. Their older daughter Nadine was just six years old when Sophie died, and has been in and out of treatment centers since then because of her role in the accidental death. The new reality of being rich might just give the family a chance to start over.
“This is your way out,” Angie tells her husband after the win. The couple, who’d been on the path to divorce for a long time, starts musing: “I want a new truck… With zebra stripes,” “I wanna move,” “I wanna go to Hawaii,” “I want to see if a really expensive bottle of wine is really all that much better,” “I want the perfumer Jacques Cavallier to design a scent for me. My own fragrance.”
And Cotter then compassionately unfolds just how much their unit deserves a fresh start. Because of Dean Lee’s poor poker playing, the local bookie pays regular visits to the family’s home in McCandless, Texas, to take whatever he can to settle the debts. Angie is estranged from her cruel mother, and is trying to find purpose by rekindling an old friendship and working at a bookstore. Nadine, a preteen, contends with the depression that consumes her life after the accident.
“I was only six,” she tells a friend. “I don’t even remember if I did it on purpose. All I know is I don’t sleep.” Nadine’s relationship with this friend becomes one of the most memorable storylines of the novel. Gil is a goth, makeup-wearing twelve-year-old who gets admitted into Nadine’s treatment center. Gil admits to her in their first meeting that he wants to be “sexless” or “gender null” and wishes he could rid himself of genitals.
The two develop a close friendship of understanding, and in turn the reader gets a deeper look at how Sophie’s death will impact the rest of her sister’s life as she matures and can empathize with someone else who’s been through hell. The two friends show each other compassion for the terrible acts they’ve committed or dreamed of committing. It’s a sweet aside with a bitter end, and contains more potent, illuminating moments than some of Cotter’s other side stories.
These side stories and shifting timeline create a big cast of characters, all contributing to an honest picture of life in southern Texas. No one can shake their demons, no matter the size of their house or their bank account. Lessons aren’t always learned after the first mistake. Motivations are put into question. Even after the Grandets’ money comes in, Nadine stays isolated, Angie clings to the fantasy of a random stranger, and Dean Lee uses his share of the money to exacerbate his gambling problem.
The story of a lottery win gone wrong isn’t new, but Cotter’s storytelling sparks intrigue and concern for this American family, whose problems are mostly self-inflicted. The lottery bookends the family’s real story, a structure that creates room to appreciate each member’s desires and shortcomings.
What propels Angie to buy her first-ever lottery ticket? Cotter successfully reveals that it’s what drives us all to take risks. The mere image of the reward on the other side, the enticing thought that we could be lucky, is enough on its own to get us out of bed every day, even when the worst has happened. And then there are those precious moments when we realize, thanks to the people around us, that we have a lot of luck already. Together, this broken family comes to realize that the win was never about the money. It was about hope.
The Splendid Ticket
By Bill Cotter
Published December 6, 2022
Meredith Boe is a Pushcart Prize–nominated writer, editor, and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passengers Journal, Newfound, Another Chicago Magazine, Chicago Reader, Mud Season Review, After Hours, and elsewhere, and her chapbook What City won the 2018 Debut Series Chapbook Contest from Paper Nautilus.