Random House: 7/29/2014
eBook, 256 pages
My Thoughts:“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” by The New York Times. Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.
With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom is a highly recommended novel about unconventional familiar ties in their many varied forms and the whole spectrum of luck, good to bad, from 1939-1949.
Right at the start Amy Bloom will hook you into reading the novel, Lucky Us, which opens in 1939 with 12 year old Eva and her mother going to see her father at his home after his wife died. Eva's mother runs off and abandons her there with her father, Edgar, but more importantly this begins Eva's relationship with her 16 year old half-sister, Iris. Eva soon makes it her job to support Iris as she attends and wins various speech contests around the area. The girls ban together to hide the money Iris wins from their father (who would steal it). After Iris graduates from high school (Eva skips several grades and makes it through 11th grade at age 14) , the girls set off together for Hollywood where Iris is going to be a star.
After Iris does start on her way up, she is photographed with another actress and is blacklisted in Hollywood for their lesbian relationship. Francisco, a gay makeup artist, likes Iris and wants to help the girls. Just as he is waiting for Iris to tell him what has happened, their con-artist father, Edgar, shows up. The four then set off on a road trip across the country while preparing for their interviews as a butler and governess for the Torelli family, who live on an estate in Great Neck, Long Island. They get the job and move into the carriage house, where calamity still seems to follow the whole family.
I will guarantee that Lucky Us will keep your attention and glued to the story to the end. Getting to the end will be a rather unpredictable ride. A good portion of the book is epistolary, told through letters from Iris and another character, Gus. As the story unfolds, it is told through several viewpoints, the main narration is by Eva, but others also share a part of the telling, including Iris, Gus, and Edgar. There will also never be a dull moment or a lull in the advancing story as one mishap seems to foretell another.
There are a few short comings for me. While Iris's letters propel the story forward, in some ways it is awkward since she is reminiscing in them about shared experiences with Eva, something you'd likely not write, especially if sending a letter overseas. Additionally the dialogue doesn't seem to be set in the 40's. Finally, it doesn't seem true to life that the gay characters would be so open about their lifestyles during that period of time, along with interracial relationships. Setting those misgivings aside, Bloom does use these character traits to show that a family can be made up of many different people, not always related by blood but by mutual support and love.
What is never in question is Bloom's enormous talent as a writer and there are several wonderful passages I can't help but quote:
"My father had been a beaker of etiquette and big ideas, Iris was a vase of glamour, and I was the little brown jug of worry."
"...I would have told you that no one came to see someone like me because they were happy. I would have said, People come because they are so frightened, they wake up in a sweat. They look into the well of their true selves, and the consequences of being who they are, and they’re horrified. They run to my little table to have me say that what they see is not what will happen."
"We were like the soldiers in Stalingrad, moving forward only because backward wasn’t possible."
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House for review purposes.