At the beginning of LUCKY US, it's 1939, and 12-year-old Eva has just been driven by her single mother to Ohio, where Eva's father's other family lives. Her father's wife has just died, and in the confusion surrounding the funeral, Eva's mother leaves her there, with a half-sister she's never met and a father she barely knows. Eva, a quiet and smart girl, is instantly smitten with 16-year-old Iris, who is charismatic, beautiful and determined to be a star. Sooner than either of the girls expect, Iris gets her chance to escape. The two sisters head cross-country to Hollywood, where Iris has a brief film career (truncated by scandal), while Eva spends most of her time reading.
After their father returns on the scene, the small family decides to make a new start on Long Island, where their dad is offered a job as a butler to a nouveau riche family and Iris is offered a position as a governess to the family's young children (which she promptly cedes to Eva while she pursues a career on Broadway and a relationship with the family's cook, not necessarily in that order). Almost by accident, Eva uses her imagination and her love of story to set up shop as a psychic, and in the wake of tragedy, she eventually becomes an adoptive mother as well.
"LUCKY US is a big-hearted, energetic novel, one that practically bursts at the seams with imaginative scenes and characters... a purely pleasurable reading experience, a funny, bittersweet reflection on the mutability and constancy of love."
LUCKY US is a big-hearted, energetic novel, one that practically bursts at the seams with imaginative scenes and characters --- from a Hollywood orgy to a devastating house fire to accounts of camps and conflicts during World War II. At the heart of it, though, are Eva's observations and musings; content to play the sidekick to her larger-than-life older sister, she is the perfect chronicler of the family's unforgettable story.
Amy Bloom is a confident and inventive storyteller, but her real talent is for the details. Chapter names taken from 1940s song titles help imbue the novel with period feeling, and there's more than one cameo by real-life figures of the day. Above all, however, Bloom is a real master of prose style. Virtually every paragraph, even every sentence, no matter how humble, is a little gem: "If you'd asked me what I understood about fortune-telling," Eva muses at one point, "I would have told you that no one came to see someone like me because they were happy. I would have said, People come because they are so frightened, they wake up in a sweat. They look into the well of their true selves, and the consequences of being who they are, and they're horrified. They run to my little table to have me say that what they see is not what will happen."
Bloom's latest is somewhat difficult to categorize. On one level, it's a picaresque, as her protagonist journeys (both literally and figuratively) through a 1940s America populated with colorful and memorable characters. On another, it's a family drama, about two half-sisters who, after being virtual strangers for their entire lives, come to rely on each other for everything, only to drift apart again. It's a novel that's told partly through letters and partly through the protagonist's first-person narration. Regardless of how you want to categorize it (if at all), LUCKY US is a purely pleasurable reading experience, a funny, bittersweet reflection on the mutability and constancy of love.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on August 1, 2014