Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lucky Us

by Amy Bloom
Random House    2014
256 pages     Fiction

Last month, my granddaughters and I watched the charming and quirky movie Paper Moon starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal as father and (perhaps) daughter con artists. The thirteen-year-olds loved it, and the image of Tatum O'Neal in the role of Addie Loggins stayed with me as I began Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. 

Eva Acton narrates the years in her life before until shortly after World War II. She doesn't appear to be lucky in the opening pages of Lucky Us. She is about ten when the book begins with the best first line I have read this year, "My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us."  So her mother borrows a car, and they travel to Chicago to find her father. Her mother abruptly leaves Eva and her suitcase on her father's doorstep and disappears forever (well, not quite forever, but that's another story.) 

Eva finds that the father she only knew from occasional visits has another daughter, Iris, who is 16 as the book opens, and Iris charmingly adds Eva into their family. Father is a college professor, a bit of a schemer and fairly dishonest. Iris has been saving up for a trip to Hollywood to begin a career as an actress. When she sees their father trying to steal her money, the girls gather up what they have and make their way to California.

Thus begins Eva's life adventures, which include what the New York Times reviewer calls "abrupt painful changes." I took them to be part of an event-filled, character-filled journey into adulthood for Eva. Yes, there is pain. Yes, there is enormous change. You would not know that from Eva's narration which is full of charm and vitality and positivity. The Boston Globe reviewer says that "Lucky Us's resilient cast of characters and Bloom's witty, expansive tone lend the novel a buoyancy and joyfulness."

The most remarkable experiences are climaxed with tragedy, but the tragedy is narrated in such a matter-of-fact way that the reader thinks "Oh, My!" and then sucks it up and goes on—just like the bevy of characters that surround Eva and her family. The characters are remarkably crafted and charmingly offbeat. and our understanding of them is guided by Eva's observations. For example "I never saw my father as foolish. When I was a little girl, I saw him as a god, generous with the Hershey bars, and now I saw him as clever and shallow. Thin silverplate over nickel is what I thought." 

It is not that Eva isn't warned that life is hard. Early in the narration, the landlady Mrs. Gruber tells the girls that "happiness was not something she aspired to, that when we had seen as much of the world as she had, we would know that what lies right behind the horseshit is not a prize pony. . .it's more horseshit." (My father had a phrase for characters like Eva—they "roll with the punches," and he always felt that was a great asset in life.)

Bloom's writing is stellar. The plot never flags and each character is created with such finesse that you envision and love each one. For instance, there is a makeup artist named Francisco—an Hispanic, middle-aged gay man—who becomes extremely influential in Eva's life. I could see him so clearly, that I felt like I knew him. 

Lucky Us is not typical in any way. It isn't a family drama; it isn't a coming-of-age drama, it isn't a comedy; and it most definitely isn't a tragedy. It is all of those things and much, much more. I can't wait for you to read Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. I know you will love it as much as I do.

The Boston Globe review
 The New York Times review.

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