My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.
opening lines of Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
Forgive me, library gods, for I have sinned. I checked Lucky Us out of the library back in — and now I hesitate to even tell you this — August. And I read it in greedy gulps this past week, racking up a fine each day because I’d had it for so long that I could no longer renew it. I wouldn’t feel so bad if it hadn’t been so good.
I can remember being totally in love with Amy Bloom’s short stories as a teenager. Always deft, droll and incredibly slick without sliding into glibness, they seemed to me quintessentially American, & they lie in my reading mind somewhere in the same State as Lorrie Moore’s earlier collections. Then I went for at least fifteen years without reading anything by Bloom — for no reason that I can recall — before finding Where the God of Love Hangs Out when the Pip-Pop was very small. In the meantime, Bloom published her first novel, Away.
Lucky Us, her second novel, is the story of half-sisters Iris and Eva, thrown together by their feckless father, Edgar, when Iris’s mother dies and Eva’s mother abandons her. Spanning the decade from 1939 to 1949 and taking in Hollywood, New York & war-torn Germany, it sounds like it should be a huge family saga. But instead, Bloom brings to her material the compression and ellipsis of a masterful short story writer, combined with material that shows family can be constructed from the strangest combination of circumstance, loyalty and luck.
For the most part, Eva, the younger sister — bookish, observant and mordantly funny — narrates, but Bloom isn’t afraid to bring in sections and chapters from other points of view. The narrative is also interleaved with letters from the other characters to Eva, bringing news from other worlds. With chapter titles taken from song titles (including the wonderful sounding ‘Dirty Butter’ and ‘You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew’), it’s a patchwork of a novel, constructed from tight scenes, briefly illuminated. I would love to learn something of Bloom’s concision. Here, for example, a scene in its entirety, with Eva returning home from a date and reporting back to her friend/father figure, Francisco:
Francisco was sitting up when I came in.
“Awful,” I said.
“You or him?”
The flip side of Bloom’s technique is that, although parts of Lucky Us are incredibly moving, I never felt as close to her character’s or the twists of their fate as I might. Like Eva’s self-deprecating humour, something always holds the reader slightly back — the gloss, the smoothness, the jump-cuts keep us from their hearts. But perhaps this is a book about people whose hearts are, for the most part, mysterious even to themselves.
Here then I give you Lucky Us, a stylish, charming and inventive read that I’ve been keeping to myself for the past five months. If the library gods are listening, maybe this recommendation will go some way towards atoning for my sins.
Further confession: I’ve also had Anne Michaels’ Poems out since August. This is the second time I’ve maxed-out my loan on this one & still I keep returning to it again and again. Perhaps a sign that it’s one to own.