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Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
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Lucky Us (2014)

by Amy Bloom

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I love Amy Bloom's short stories; they are psychologically perceptive, humanely compassionate, and wonderfully written (Bloom can say more in a sentence than some writers can in paragraphs). So I was really excited when she branched out to novel writing, but then I was disappointed in her first novel, Away, although it too was beautifully written. I felt it was all over the place and a lot of it strained my credulity. Now that I've read her second novel, this one, I see that a lot of what she did in the first was intentional, and I got more in synch with the scope of her novel writing and less bothered by the improbable plot points. In other words, while some of the novel annoyed me as I was reading it, I ended up being really moved by it.

The novel tells the tale of Eva, who is abandoned by her mother at her father's house (the first lines of the book are: "My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us"), as she begins a second life with her English professor father and her new sister, Iris; as she and Iris run away to Hollywood so Iris can pursue her acting dreams; and after they leave in disgrace from Hollywood, along with her father, to go to Long Island where, initially, Iris acts (and I mean acts) as a governess for a wealthy family and the father pretends to be an English butler. And this is just in the first 50 pages. Set against the backdrop of the second world war, the novel brings in a multiplicity of other characters who interact with Eva, Iris, and their father, as complication upon complication ensues.

Ultimately, what I found most moving about this novel was Eva's search for family, and for direction in her life, and the ideas that some of us (maybe most of us?) have to create our own families, and that sometimes we find our path in life through chance, chance that we need to seize. But I also was impressed by how Bloom creates such diverse characters; even the ones who appear briefly come to life as individuals. Also, I think she handled well telling the story in different voices, some of it even in letters from some of the characters to others. And I liked how she deftly wove in topics like racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and wartime paranoia about people of German descent without seeming to talk about "issues". Another aspect of the novel I liked is the role of deception in creating who we are, and of dissembling in making people happy. (By the way, Bloom is also a psychotherapist.)

Some of this book is very sad, as when Eva says (in a section which is written from her first person perspective): "I had gotten used to the idea that people lived and you loved them, or didn't, and then they died and you were bound to miss them, often even if you didn't love them. I was used to Gus being dead and now he was not only alive, but stupid and angry, and he'd trailed all my dead and gone people into my house, right along with that sad, wet hat and his lined, hard face." Another unutterably sad, but true line: "Our day of crying on the couch in the carriage house was behind us. We were like the soldiers in Stalingrad, moving forward only because backward wasn't possible." But some of the novel is joyful, and some funny, and it ends up being difficult to know whether the title, "Lucky Us," is straightforward or ironic. Of course, that is probably Bloom's intention.

I guess I have gotten used to the idea that Bloom does something different in her novels than she does in her short stories, because I ended up loving this book, even as I suspended disbelief at some of the plot developments and coincidences.
4 vote rebeccanyc | Jul 26, 2014 |
LUCKY US by Amy Bloom starts with the following line: ""My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us." Unfortunately, things did not stay with that same level of awesomeness. What I was pitched by the synopsis was a story that involved two sisters stumbling through life together. What I got was two sisters thrown together until something happened that tears them apart and the rest of the story we only really get to see the life of the one sister - Eva - the sister who, in spite of Bloom's best efforts, was somewhat of a wet-rag type of character.

Read the rest of this review at The Lost Entwife on August 10, 2014. ( )
  TheLostEntwife | Jul 25, 2014 |
"Lucky Us" is the story of a family that at first glance seems far from the conventional depiction of that phrase. Many people might in fact find them quite unlucky. The book is set in the 1940's and spans the time of WWII, but it is not particularly written as a historic novel. I guess I would sum it up as the dramatic story of a non-traditional family that is acutely focused on the lives of the two sisters and their relationships within their uniquely blended family. The author has created two main characters who struggle through life and yet find some level of success regardless of the events going on around them. Although I didn't always like either of them, I found myself respecting them. Each uses her abilities and strengths to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them and find some degree of happiness.
I found the writing to be exceptional. Another author telling this story would have lost me and left me flat, but Ms. Bloom managed to keep me glued to the pages and entranced by her words.
I recommend this for readers who like serious literary fiction with strong characterization. There are lighthearted moments in the telling of this story, but much of it could seem almost exasperatingly tedious, and a reader must appreciate this level of focus and attention to the characters' psyches. I will leave it to you to decide if you think the girls and their family are lucky. I have my answer, and I am more than satisfied with the unique and raw beauty of this story.
I thank the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this title. ( )
1 vote c.archer | Jul 23, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

Sometimes an opening hooks you right away and the book delivers on its promise. And sometimes the opening hooks you right away and the book lets you down in the end. I have liked Amy Bloom's fiction and non-fiction. Her writing is fluid and she shows real understanding and compassion for her characters. I heard her speak once and she seemed warm, unpretentious and like someone you wanted to have lunch with. But "Lucky Us," a coming-of-age story about finding family when the one into which you were born lets you down, let me down.

Evie and Iris are teen-age half-sisters who leave Ohio around 1940 for Hollywood where pretty, talented Iris will rise to the stardom she deserves. Like the novel, Iris's career starts promisingly enough. But when it blows up in scandal, the sisters reverse direction and wind up first in Brooklyn then in Great Neck, Long Island. Hardship and catastrophe follow, Iris decamps for London and is subsequently heard from only in letters. Secondary characters appear and Evie makes her way. But I didn't find Bloom's gift for characterization in evidence here. The novel seems to be more about what happens to the characters than about who they are. They never came alive for me and the familial ties that develop seemed more like plot devices than genuine bonds. "Lucky Us" (the title is both sardonic and sincere) is not uninteresting but I found it lacking the depth that would have given it emotional resonance. ( )
  alpin | Jul 22, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Thanks to "Early Reviewers" I now have a new favorite author. Ms. Bloom writes like a dream. Beautifully crafted prose with nothing superfluous. I had forgotten how satisfying it is to indulge in a book you love. "..sentences that should be in a sentence museum," Michael Cunningham. I know I read "Love Invents Us" by Bloom a while back and rated it (in my own system prior to LibraryThing) as an 8 out of 9. However, I don't remember being this wowed. Great combination of poignant, spicy, humorous, and tender. Lucky me for being chosen as an Early Reviewer of Lucky Us. ( )
  LJBooks | Jul 7, 2014 |
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My father's wife died.
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It's good to be smart, it's better to be lucky.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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