LUCKY US is an engaging, fast-paced novel about an unlikely romance
between an older man and a younger woman. Gabe is a stoical
50-year-old ex-convict who works as a salesman in a New York City
camera store. Elisa is an often-reckless 20-something painter who
meets Gabe when she works at the very same camera store. Elisa,
although she's just broken up with her abusive boyfriend Jason,
pursues Gabe romantically, much to his surprise. The two become
lovers and end up living together in Gabe's apartment. After a few
months, they begin to discuss marriage.
Much of the novel is spent on the "back-story" of the two lovers.
We learn about Gabe's former life as a small time drug dealer,
about how he is betrayed by a "friend" and then busted by an
undercover cop. Gabe spends a formative few months in prison, where
he reads and tries not to think about the future. We see how Gabe's
life develops after he gets out of prison --- how he gives up
selling drugs and becomes involved with a series of women, none of
them quite right for him. Before meeting Elisa, Gabe has almost
resigned himself to living a solitary, monastic existence of
working at the camera store and reading deeply (appropriately, he's
a big fan of Franz Kafka).
Elisa has a much shorter history, but it's marked by a reckless
approach to life. As a teenager, she does a lot of drugs --- from
smoking weed to injecting heroin. At 17 she nearly runs off to get
married with her high school sweetheart. Elisa follows her every
whim. She's the embodiment of Oscar Wilde's famous dictum: "The
only way to resist temptation is to yield to it." We learn about
her series of boyfriends and all the unprotected sex she's engaged
in. This history of reckless behavior helps explain Elisa's
attraction to the solid, almost zen-like Gabe. She sees him as a
stabilizing influence on her reckless impulses.
Although both Gabe and Elisa share a reckless youth, Elisa is the
one who pays the heaviest price. She takes a blood test in
preparation for marrying Gabe, and when she gets the test results,
her life changes forever: she's contracted the AIDS virus. Gabe
does not have AIDS but he does all he can to provide Elisa with
emotional support. At this most vulnerable time of her life, Elisa
inexplicably chooses to cheat on Gabe with her ex-boyfriend Jason,
an artist who also has AIDS.
Needless to say, Gabe finds out. Gabe and Elisa fight, and Elisa
leaves him for Jason. She soon tires of Jason and discovers just
how deeply she loves Gabe. For his part, Gabe is hopelessly lost
without Elisa. She's brought hope back into his life, and he finds
that he can't live without her. At novel's end, Elisa asks Gabe if
they can try to get back together. The final pages depict the
tender reconciliation between Gabe and Elisa and their
determination to fight Elisa's condition together. Perhaps Gabe
needs Elisa too much, but she needs him as well. The two seem
strangely yet almost perfectly matched.
Silber's narrative is thoroughly absorbing, and her prose is clean
and lucid. Silber explores the Gabe-Elisa relationship from the
perspective of both characters; she delves into their histories and
allows us to understand why they become so devoted to one another.
It's an emotionally mature and complex novel about the vagaries of
the human heart. LUCKY US is the kind of book that will keep you up
late into the night reading, turning page after page until the end.
Certainly a satisfying read.
Reviewed by Chuck Leddy on January 22, 2011