BOOK REVIEW: 'Lucky Us': Amy Bloom Hits a Home Run with a Funny Novel of Life in 1940's America -- With a Peek at Post-War Britain

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place   -- Opening sentence of "Lucky Us"

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First off, check out the cast of characters of "Lucky Us",  Amy Bloom's very readable novel of two sisters and their travels and travails in America in the very late 1930s through the early post World War II period. It's not in the book, but she provides it on her website: http://amybloom.com/lucky-us/lucky-us-cast-of-characters. You might want to check out this cast of characters before reading the book.

 BOOK REVIEW: 'Lucky Us': Amy Bloom Hits a Home Run with a Funny Novel of Life in 1940's America -- With a Peek at Post-War Britain

 

"Lucky Us" (Random House, 256 pages, $26.00) is the story of Eva Logan and Iris Acton, half-sisters seeking happiness,  but there are so many characters in the relatively short novel that you'll want to read it a second -- or even a third -- time fully to understand the people whom they meet. "Lucky Us" hilariously shows us -- in the cliché so often used -- that life is what happens while we make plans.

The FreeDictionary says a picaresque novel is:  "Of or relating to a genre of usually satiric prose fiction originating in Spain and depicting in realistic, often humorous detail the adventures of a roguish hero of low social degree living by his or her wits in a corrupt society". 

The reference, of course,  is to "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes, published in 1605 and the basis of the wonderful musical "Man of La Mancha." I can't figure out who is the female Don Quixote or Sancho Panza -- Iris or Eva -- in Bloom's take on the picaresque,  but it doesn't really matter. 

Just immerse yourself in "Lucky Us" and travel from northern Ohio to Hollywood, where Iris has a brief career in the movie business. After a disastrous end to Iris's career (no, I won't give away any spoilers, don't even ask me!) Eva and Iris move to wealthy Long Island, where Iris and Eva and their quixotic college professor father Edgar Acton become the servants of a wealthy Italian-American family, the Torellis.

I don't know if Edgar Acton, who re-invented himself from his Jewish Chicago Maxwell Street background, qualifies as a Don Quixote, or if that description fits Gus Heitmann, who goes in the reverse direction, becoming a Jewish teacher after growing up gentile. Again, it doesn't really matter as you laugh your way through "Lucky Us."

The sisters and other characters contribute alternating chapters to a saga that reminds me very much of the writing of Mark Helprin, especially his novel "In Sunlight and in Shadow." (for my review: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/55330). I'm willing to bet I'll be the only reviewer who sees similarities between Amy Bloom and Mark Helprin, but this is my review and I can write it any way I want!

 Bloom's novel covers a similar period to Helprin's, and much of the action of both novels takes place in the greater New York City area, but they are very different in tone. Not to mention size, as Helprin's characters live their lives in a book of more than 700 pages.

Book clubbers: This is a no-brainer for you. There's no readers guide, but the cast of characters mentioned above will be an excellent substitute. Did I mention how readable said cast of characters is? It's very funny. Here are two quotes from it. First, Eva Logan: "Our little hero, our not particularly brave, not at all fearless, self-doubting, smart, often puzzled and sometime outraged hero. Age 12, when we meet her."

Now, Iris Acton: "A teenage girl who never had an awkward phase, Iris is the star of  Cuyahoga County, prettier than most, more ambitious than any."

"Lucky Us" is the funniest,  most heartwarming novel I've read so far this year. Read it and I'm willing to bet one of my classic typewriters (not my Corona 3) that you'll love it, too.

 

Amy Bloom
Amy Bloom

About the Author

Amy Bloom, born 1953 in New York City, is the author of two novels, three collections of short stories, and a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and numerous anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine,  and Atlantic Monthly, among many other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. Her most recent novel, Away, was an epic story about a Russian immigrant.   Her recent collection of short stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, came out in January 2010.  She lives in Connecticut and taught at Yale University for the last decade.  She is now Wesleyan University’s Distinguished University Writer in Residence. Her website: www.amybloom.com.

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