Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Lucky UsLucky Us by Amy Bloom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us is a little gem of a novel about family, loyalty, and the ways in which people reinvent themselves. Bloom’s complicated, unusual characters are often the very opposite of “lucky,” yet they make their own luck. Poignant, funny, and richly imagined, Lucky Us deserves its place as one of the most anticipated works of literary fiction to be released in the summer of 2014.

The novel follows two sisters, Eva and Iris, who share the same father, Edgar, an English professor with forged academic credentials. In 1939, the plucky teenaged sisters flee their stifling Ohio town and journey to Hollywood. Beautiful and impetuous Iris dreams of film stardom. Thoughtful Eva, who has been abandoned by her mother, is Iris’ devoted sidekick. When Iris finds herself entangled in a movie industry scandal and blackballed by Hedda Hopper, Eva and Iris travel across the country with their friend Francisco, a gay Mexican makeup artist, and begin a new life in wartime New York. Iris and Edgar, employed as a governess and a butler in the Long Island house of newly rich Italians, find love in unlikely places. Eva, meanwhile, seeks to find her own destiny as she makes a living reading the fortunes of others.

I loved the theme of identity and reinvention in Lucky Us; these resilient characters survive by creating themselves anew, sometimes over and over. They know how to “size up and seize opportunity,” as Iris says. Or in the words of the invented academic Edgar, “The stars do fuck-all for us; you must make your own way.” As with 1940s America itself, Bloom’s characters rise up out of tragedy and shape a new destiny.

Bloom also considers the meaning of family and loyalty, as the ties that bind people together here, as in life, are not always blood ties. Abandonment and the ways in which we fail those we love figure prominently as well. Book clubs that read literary fiction will find much to chew on here.

With beautiful and clear prose, Bloom tells the story mostly from Eva’s first person narrative, interspersed with letters from various characters, some sent and some unsent. The epistolary entries, however, are sometimes distracting and not always completely successful. The chapters, at times, have the feel of short stories rather than parts of a fully developed novel. Some readers may find the ending, though satisfying, overly abrupt. Despite these flaws, Lucky Us is a lovely novel with unforgettable characters, and it deserves a wide readership.

I received an ARC from Random House, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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