Lucky Us

By Amy Bloom

(Random House, $26, 256 pages)

Who is this author?

Connecticut readers know…or certainly should know …fellow state resident Amy Bloom’s fine work. Trained as a psychotherapist, she taught for many years at Yale University and currently is Distinguished University Writer in Residence, teaching creative writing, at Wesleyan University. The prolific Bloom is the author of many highly regarded books, including the nonfiction “Normal,” and story collections and novels that include “Come to Me,” “A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You,” “Love Invents Us; “Away” and “Where the God of Love Hangs Out.” Her stories are a mainstay in the best anthologies, and Bloom also has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon. She also is a winner of a  National Magazine Award.

What is this book about?

It’s the 1940s, and a pair of half-sisters from a not-so-functional family take off in a stolen station wagon from Ohio to the glamorous West Coast and the temptations of Hollywood, only to wind up on the East Coast and the ritzy, glitzy mansions of Long Island and eventually, London. Iris and her younger sidekick Eva pursue their dreams, despite personal betrayals and the national struggles of a nation at war. This lively story is a jazzy as the musicians who are among its cleverly drawn, piquant characters, all of whom possess the energy and ambition that blossomed as the Great Depression tapered off and America became even more of a world power. Bloom combines history with humor and heart to tell this story, and it is a captivating tale.

Why you’ll like it:

It’s hard to determine whether Bloom’s skills at therapy deepen her writing or whether her authorial imagination has influenced her ability to help her patients, but either way, it has made her a powerful storyteller and insightful interpreter of the human soul. Opening one of her books is like climbing into a car with a savvy driver: you may not know for sure where it is heading, but you are confident that it will be one hell of a trip. This is a many-layered novel, which uses letters as a form of narrative, and fans of historical fiction,  as well as those who savor brightly imagined characters of varying races, ages, genders and sexual preferences, a compelling plot and delicious dialogue are going to enjoy the ride.


What others are saying:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month review for August 2014 says:  “From its provocative opening paragraph–”My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”–to its sweet tableau of an ending, Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us is a percussive novel about two sisters who go from Ohio to Hollywood and back trying both to find and lose themselves and each other. Iris has the disposition (if not the talent) of an actress, but early on she gets drummed out of Tinseltown for a particularly shocking (for the time) youthful indiscretion; Eva is her younger, more dour sister/observer. Through short vignettes of and letters from the Acton sisters as well as a growing cast of tragicomic characters, we get a jazzy novel about the WWII era. Bloom is particularly good at recreating the idioms of the time–in her acknowledgements, she thanks her cousin, the writer/scholar Harold Bloom for teaching her “to find a better way to put almost anything.”–and both her style and her story have a subversive, iconoclastic quality. This is not a very long novel, but with its expansive understanding of human nature and of history, it covers a lot of ground.”

Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “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 transforms history to create a story of stunning invention, with characters that readers will feel lucky to encounter.”

Says Kirkus in its starred review: “On a journey from Ohio to Hollywood to Long Island to London in the 1940s, a couple of plucky half sisters continually reinvent themselves with the help of an unconventional assortment of friends and relatives. In 1939, 12-year-old Eva is abandoned by her feckless mother on her father’s Ohio doorstep after the death of his wealthy wife. After a couple of years of neglect, Eva and her glamorous older half sister, Iris, escape to Hollywood, where Iris embarks on a promising career in film—until she’s caught on camera in a lesbian dalliance with a starlet, which gets her blacklisted. With the help of a sympathetic gay Mexican makeup artist as well as their con-artist father, Edgar, who has recently reappeared in their lives, the girls travel across the country to New York and finagle jobs at the Great Neck estate of a wealthy Italian immigrant family. Hired as a governess, Iris promptly falls in love with the family’s pretty cook, Reenie, inconveniently married to Gus, a likable mechanic of German ancestry. In this partly epistolary novel interspersed with both first-person and third-person narration, Bloom tells a bittersweet story from multiple viewpoints. The novel shares the perspectives of Eva, Iris, Edgar, Gus and Cora, a black nightclub singer who becomes Edgar’s live-in girlfriend and companion to Eva. Though the letter-writing conceit doesn’t always ring true, since it’s unlikely that one sister would recount their shared experiences to the other in letters years later, the novel works in aggregate, accumulating outlooks to tell a multilayered, historical tale about different kinds of love and family. Bloom enlivens her story with understated humor as well as offbeat and unforgettable characters. Despite a couple of anachronisms, this is a hard-luck coming-of-age story with heart.”

Booklist, in another starred review, says: “Eva, age 12, knows her father as a sweet man who visits on Sundays, until her mother announces that his wife has died and they’ll be paying him a visit. And so Eva arrives at a home she’s never seen to live with her father and older half sister, Iris, whom she didn’t know existed. Talented, self-involved Iris is a doggedly hopeful performer, winning every local and regional competition in their small midwestern college town before graduating high school and escaping to Hollywood with the embarrassing but brainy and reliable Eva in tow. There is a gossip-column scandal and a cross-country road trip, an abducted orphan and an accused spy, and more than a couple of masquerades, but everything here is fresh; Bloom’s cannonballs read like placid ripples. Told partially from Eva’s perspective, and with epistolary interludes over the novel’s 1939–49 span, Eva’s world is one of endless opportunities for reinvention—and redemption—if one only takes them. With a spare and trusting style, Bloom invites readers to fill the spaces her pretty prose allows, with true and beautiful results.”

“Bighearted, rambunctious . . . a bustling tale of American reinvention . . . [a] high-octane tale of two half-sisters who take it upon themselves to reverse their sorry, motherless fortunes . . . 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. . . . Love will fizz and fizzle, outrageous lies will be told, orphans will find happiness and heartbreak, and fate will sweep in to drive characters into hellish corners of the world. . . . There are few American novelists writing today who can spin a yarn as winningly. . . . Welcome to America, dear reader. Lucky us,” says The Washington Post.

When is it available?

Lucky for us, it is at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight and Mark Twain branches.

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