praise for what luck, this life

Bronze IPPY Medal - Literary Fiction


In The News

“Kathryn Schwille's richly descriptive debut novel weaves local drama into a national trauma to illustrate how regular people's lives play out beyond the headlines.”

Star Tribune

Greensboro News & Observer

“Kathryn Schwille’s debut novel is as brilliant as a meteor – or perhaps a space shuttle – streaking across the sky, and its glow is more lasting. This deceptively slim novel is brimming with characters so real you will be sure you’ve met them somewhere, and stories so true they will touch your heart.”

Charlotte observer

"Kathryn Schwille’s sensibility is reminiscent of Ron Rash, a sort of lyric grittiness, and her keen alertness to human strength and foible brings to mind the late Doris Betts. WHAT LUCK, THIS LIFE is nothing short of magnificent."

"Schwille’s prose is vibrant. Among the wreckage, she paints an exuberant natural landscape. Each word of this slim novel is impactful. Despite the characters’ grim undertaking, the world Schwille envisions is one no reader will ever want to leave. In the end, when the sky falls over Kiser, it reminds its inhabitants about their own mortality, that death is one of life’s greatest mysteries and that it can be as fickle and unpredictable as a mechanical malfunction."


"Fans of Thomas Pierce and Amy Hill Hearth will appreciate Schwille’s spare, poetic prose and her willingness to examine both the picturesque and the unsavory sides of small-town life. A deeply thought-provoking novel."


"A scream comes across the sky, and there's nothing to compare to it in Schwille's quietly contemplative and affecting first novel...a modern-day Winesburg, Ohio."

Andrea Barrett,

author of Ship Fever

“A century after the publication of Winesburg, Ohio, Kathryn Schwille has created a similarly unexpected, and unexpectedly moving, portrait of a small town: this one in East Texas, in the wake of a tragedy. Her characters speak from the heart; their troubles and small triumphs speak to all of us.”

Thomas Pierce,

author of The Afterlives

"Kaleidoscopic and incredibly moving, What Luck, This Life is the story of a hardscrabble town and the people who call it home. This is a book full of heart and wisdom.”

Clare Beams,

author of We Show What We Have Learned

“With this novel, Schwille has given us a landscape of longings, passions, and heartaches so real and deep we can almost walk around in it. The pieces of the Columbia fall on and bring into relief the whole rich array of lives and dramas that exist in Kiser, Texas--every one of them rendered with remarkable feeling. The result is a powerful portrait of Kiser and of the human condition.”

“What Luck, This Life is an astonishing work of literary talent, surprising at every turn. The novel takes the catastrophe of a space shuttle blowing its fragments across the uninspired landscape of an East Texas town and in the search for remains uncovers a second set of catastrophes and secrets in the lives of the people on the ground. The characters are wild and desperate, but they are also us. For we are all cast out, looking for a return. From the tattered remains of disaster, Schwille creates a glimmering constellation of humanity, a flash of heavenly light. Just thinking about this book makes me feel more alive.”

Elaine neil orr,

author of Swimming Between Worlds