When Mike was 26, he considered himself lucky. He had a good job at a factory, just built a house, and could always make people laugh. Life was good and getting better, until most of his sight faded. It happened because a few people made a few mistakes, so usually, he just called it bad luck. He didn’t talk about it much because there were other problems to solve. Losing his sight meant losing his job, which led to losing his house. He followed his Dad’s advice, “When you’re in a bad situation, try to do something that doesn’t make it worse.”
Mike attends a school that helps adults live with blindness, which is where the novel begins. He’s always enjoyed learning, but he enjoys the other students more. One student is George. He’s about the same age as Mike and tends to be the center of attention, with his short jokes or long stories. He and Mike are young men who recently lost their sight and have a lot of spare time at night. That leads to a lot of drinking, laughing, and talking about what they’ve lost. Gradually, they talk more about what they want, especially a job.
Mike also enjoys other students because they’ve done things he hasn’t. One was a football coach. Another drove a bus, and another raised a family. Pam is a teacher who shows this diverse group how to live independently with blindness. She knows that all of them need to work through emotions, passions, and distractions, so she is patient, for a short time.
One of the first lessons is making muffins without sight or very little. That makes it challenging to read instructions, measure water, and look for eggshells, but it can be done, especially with Pam teaching. It can also be fun, with George and Mike cooking. Mike notices that some important lessons aren’t about school. They’re about dealing with bad luck and blindness. Some students cry more; some laugh more; some yell more; and some compete in downhill skiing. Mike also notices a young teacher, who seems to be noticing him.
Her name is Samantha. She enjoys any lively competition, like barroom banter or a ski race. She tries convincing him to join a race, but Mike says that he’s more of a bunny-hill kind of guy. She then asks him to help, by telling the skiers where to turn. He responds, “Let me see if I have this right. You want me to stand on a freezing ski slope and shake a tambourine while blind skiers are headed right for me?” Eventually, he agrees, mostly to impress her.
The day of the ski race feels like a homecoming football game in high school. At first, Mike is nervous about standing on the ski slope and telling the racers where to turn, but after a few go by, he forgets about the cold and fear by watching their speed and effort. In the end, the race comes down to the last skier, who happens to be Samantha.
The book ends where it began, at the school. George surprises everyone with good news. He has a job, so he won’t be in class anymore. Mike walks out with him, and George says that he never learned how Mike lost his sight. When Mike says, “Bad luck,” George asks for more. Mike tells his friend that it started with a small eye problem, seeing rainbows around lights. That’s normally easy to fix, but an eye doctor skipped a test. When some vision faded, he went to an eye clinic, on a Friday. The next day, he was passed on to a hospital for a new surgery, but the surgeon didn’t work weekends. On Monday, he had surgery, but most of his sight was gone. With that many people and mistakes, the only explanation is bad luck.
The two men talk more about luck. They have friends who barely recover from bad luck, and others that don’t think much about it, even ski without sight. To Mike and George, intense bad or good luck can come to any type of person—good, bad, sighted, or not. They finish their walk and still wonder about luck. The best answer they have is not to think much about it, even when it takes eyesight and more. All they can do is try to make more of the good kind and worry less about the bad.