Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Lucky Us," by Amy Bloom

I wrote on 2/27/10 about how impressed I was with Amy Bloom’s collection of short stories, “Where the God of Love Hangs Out.” I have just read her new novel, “Lucky Us” (Random House, 2014), and I find some of the same themes as in some of those stories: family love and family dysfunction; families cobbled together from disparate, unconventional sources; unsettled conditions; occasional reprehensible behavior (usually out of desperation); and various betrayals, one particularly terrible. The story takes place in the 1940s, mostly in the U.S., and World War II’s shadow lies over much of the story, especially for certain characters. Questions of race and ethnicity, especially regarding Jewish and black characters, are threaded through the story. But the novel is not just “about” these themes; the main characters are strong, idiosyncratic, and skillfully drawn. Eva is the center of the story, and in her quiet but focused way is a compelling character. She and her more flamboyant sister Iris leave a complicated home situation as teenagers; make their way in the world, although generally in poverty or close to it; fall in love with seemingly unsuitable people; are rejoined by their charming but ne’er-do-well father; work; move from place to place; and in general are always trying to find their way, but with increasing support from their makeshift new families. What I like best about this novel is the very specific and distinct quality of the characters, the fearlessness of the main character despite all odds; and Bloom’s ability to weave in important themes without ever taking away from the story and the characters. As an interesting aside: Bloom is a cousin of the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom.

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