My father s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us. Read more...
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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 (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.
Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.
With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though 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, conventional and otherwise. 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.
Praise for Lucky Us
Lucky Us is a remarkable accomplishment. One waits a long time for a novel of this scope and dimension, replete with surgically drawn characters, a mix of comedy and tragedy that borders on the miraculous, and sentences that should be in a sentence museum. Amy Bloom is a treasure. Michael Cunningham
Exquisite . . . a short, vibrant book about all kinds of people creating all kinds of serial, improvisatory lives. The New York Times
Bighearted, rambunctious . . . a bustling tale of American reinvention . . . If America has a Victor Hugo, it is Amy Bloom, whose picaresque novels roam the world, plumb the human heart and send characters into wild roulettes of kismet and calamity. The Washington Post
Bloom s crisp, delicious prose gives Lucky Us] the feel of sprawling, brawling life itself. . . . Lucky Us is a sister act, which means a double dose of sauce and naughtiness from the brilliant Amy Bloom. The Oregonian
A tasty summer read that will leave you smiling . . . Broken hearts are] held together by lipstick, wisecracks and the enduring love of sisters. USA Today
Exquisitely imagined . . . a] grand adventure. O: The Oprah Magazine
Marvelous picaresque entertainment . . . a festival of joy and terror and lust and amazement that resolves itself here, warts and all, in a kind of crystalline Mozartean clarity of vision. Elle"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-05-12
- Reviewer: Staff
Two teenaged half-sisters make their way through WWII-era America in Bloom’s imaginative romp. After being left on her father’s Ohio doorstep by her absconding mother, 11-year-old Eva meets Iris, the older half-sister she never knew she had. They escape to Hollywood, where Iris hopes to become a movie star. But they wind up on Long Island, where the girls and their father, Edgar, find employment in the home of the nouveau riche Torelli family. Over the course of the story, Edgar develops a relationship with a black jazz singer named Clara Williams, Iris falls in love with the Torellis’ cook, Reenie Heitmann, and Eva learns to read the tarot and sets herself up as a psychic. Joining the lively cast is Francisco Diego, a Hollywood makeup artist; Gus, Reenie’s German husband, who is deported; and Danny, an orphan who is ultimately raised by Eva. On the way to a gloriously satisfying ending, these characters are separated by fate and distance, but form a vividly rendered patchwork American family (straight, gay, white, black, citizen, immigrant). Bloom (Away) transforms history to create a story of stunning invention, with characters that readers will feel lucky to encounter. (Aug.)
Sisters take a chance on each other
Readers of Amy Bloom’s riotous new novel, Lucky Us, might want to pack a few snacks and buckle their seatbelts for this highly entertaining ride, which kicks off when half-sisters Eva and Iris hightail it from small-town Ohio to pursue their dreams in Hollywood.
Bloom herself has always loved a good road trip. “My first road trip was the day after I graduated from high school,” she says during a phone interview in which it is clear that her own warmth and humor is the source for much of the wit found in her fiction. “I went with two girlfriends, we borrowed a car from someone’s overly indulgent father, and we drove from Long Island to Vancouver, down the West Coast and back again. And it was great. I always have a positive feeling when I see people getting into a car with a bag of chips. I even told my daughters all they needed to hit the road was 50 bucks and a couple of Tampax.”
I told my daughters all they needed to hit the road was 50 bucks and a couple of Tampax.
At its wildly beating heart, Lucky Us is a novel of rebirth and reinvention told with the kind of candor that Bloom—the author of two previous novels and three short-story collections—is known for. At the age of 12, Eva is abandoned by her mother at her father and half-sister Iris’ house. The teenagers don’t have much in common, except their shared parent, Edgar—and even he isn’t quite who they thought he was. Bloom was intrigued by the idea of writing about sisters.
“I had never written about sisters before. And though I think there are, as always for any writer, lots of sources, I happen to have a sister, and she is six years older than me. We both say we paid almost no attention to each other until she was going off to college. I was crawling around on the floor while she was riding her bike. So the idea of what it is to get to know a sister later, when you don’t have all that shared history, interested me.”
The charismatic Iris shows early talent as a performer, winning every local and regional speech competition, and Eva becomes her loyal sidekick, dresser and confidante. After the girls catch their father trying to steal Iris’ winnings, they hop a Greyhound bus to Hollywood, where Iris hopes to break into the movies. A scandal ensues and the girls are soon back on the road to New York, but this time, via station wagon, with their father in tow. Their friend Francisco, a hair and make-up artist to the stars, finds them jobs as domestics for the Torellis, a wealthy family on Long Island.
But that’s only the beginning of the girls’ madcap adventures: Later in the novel, an orphan is abducted; a friend is accused of being a German spy; and Eva takes a job as a fortune-teller at a local beauty parlor. At times, the book feels almost like a series of outtakes from some screwball comedy—but these are scenes that would have never made it past the censors, like the lushly described party at the home of Hollywood’s most decadent lesbians, or the sisters conspiring to kidnap a little boy from the local Jewish orphanage for Iris’ childless lover. But Bloom’s command of her characters keeps the novel from spilling over into satire just as her judiciously chosen details keep the plot moving forward.
Though she was born in the 1950s, Bloom is as tuned in to the spirit of the 1940s as she was to the 1920s in her award-winning novel Away. Lucky Us gives her a way to look at how life at home provided new opportunities for change and reinvention, especially for women and African Americans.
“Part of what happened when this country went to war are things that would have been unthinkable 10 years earlier,” Bloom explains. “Women not only going to work, but doing difficult physical labor and being in challenging leadership positions—things that the dominant culture had fought against since its founding. Now, it’s true the war ended and we sent those women packing, the war ended and the level of integration between African Americans and the dominant white culture dripped dramatically, but my own sense is that once you open the door, you cannot completely and forever close it again.”
Each chapter of Lucky Us is headed by a song title from the 1940s, drawn from jazz, blues and pop. These evocative headings are both a distillation of the chapter content and reminder of the rich diversity of the times, while also working as representations of some of the decade’s most profound social changes. “This was a time when music was everywhere, and though there were cultural divides, most popular music was heard by everyone. The high school girl, her science teacher, the principal, the custodian and the guy who delivered school supplies all listened to the same music,” Bloom says, adding with a laugh, “I had such a wonderful time choosing these. Can’t carry a tune, but I sure do like to listen.”
Bloom published a complete playlist of the songs on her website, but says, “If you know the songs, that’s a little plus for you, but even if you don’t, the titles are so evocative they still bring something fresh.”
Most of the novel is told from Eva’s wry perspective, but Lucky Us includes letters, both sent and unsent, from the sisters, their father and Gus, who works with them in Long Island, but through a series of unfortunate events, winds up in a German prison camp. The letters move the plot forward, but more importantly, they give the reader an additional glimpse at the inner thoughts of the characters as well as their joys, frustrations and hidden desires.
“I love the epistolary form. There is something very moving to me about letters. The wish to communicate—which is sometimes successful and sometimes not—something happens in the presence of that intention.”
Bloom’s short stories are known for their wise assurance that the very complexity of human expression—conversational, emotional and even sexual—is not only acceptable but also cause for celebration. In addition to the humor and fast-paced high jinks, Lucky Us contains a similar wisdom as it investigates how we engage with our families, both the ones we are born into and the ones we create.
Bloom, who is now the distinguished University Writer-in-Residence at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, also has a master’s in social work and worked as a psychotherapist. She credits her training for giving her empathy for her characters’ deeply human foibles.
“I learned to not interrupt,” she says, “to pay attention to what was said and how, and what was said before and what was said after. I learned to make as few assumptions as possible. To recognize that people are, in their nature, complex. So that training was really useful, especially the listening part. I don’t think you can be a good writer and a bad listener.”
I don’t think you can be a good writer and a bad listener.
About halfway through the novel, Edgar remembers that his mother once told him, “It’s good to be smart, it’s better to be lucky.” But Lucky Us reminds us that not all luck is good luck. As Bloom puts it, “Luck is a roll of the dice and we are all subject to it. So, better to be lucky than smart? Sure. But better to be lucky and smart, so you have a plan when the dice go against you, which they will—sometimes.”
Her playful novel reminds us that life can only be what we make of it and that the biggest setbacks often result in the most gratifying results. Her readers are all the luckier for it.
Author photo by Deborah Feingold