A lot of terrible things happen to the characters in Amy Bloom’s new novel, Lucky Us. Some catch fire, others develop wasting illnesses or crash their cars into trees. But, between the terrible times, there are blissful moments of beauty and respite. “This is life, and terrible things happen,” says Bloom. “It doesn’t mean that life is only long and terrible, but that it is also long and terrible.”
Her bittersweet exploration of the sheer arbitrariness of life’s ups and downs begins in 1939, when 12-year-old Eva’s mother unceremoniously dumps her on her deadbeat dad’s doorstep. Eva accepts this betrayal with admirable equanimity. In a novel peopled by fabulously flawed characters, she is the moral centre, watching and worrying as everyone else pursues their destructive self-interests.
Eva’s father, Edgar, and her spirited half-sister, Iris, have big ambitions coupled with an inordinate amount of bad luck. They try to make a go of it in Hollywood but, penniless, wind up ingratiating themselves into the lives of a well-to-do family in Brooklyn, New York. Iris poses as their governess, Edgar becomes a butler and Eva works as a psychic in a nearby beauty parlour, reading people better than the tarot cards on the table.
But just when things seem to be going their way, life happens. Fortunately, Bloom’s characters are resilient. They’re also capable of dizzying acts of deception and betrayal (from kidnapping an orphan to condemning an innocent man to a U.S. prisoner of war camp), yet are ultimately redeemed by an enduring capacity for love and forgiveness.
Why we love it: As in her bestselling novel Away, Bloom captures the imagination with vivid characters and unexpected plot twists. The pace is lively, with a musical thread that resonates even in the chapter titles. Every sentence is expertly crafted to leave its mark. (When asked how long it takes to hone each one, Bloom answers, “I can’t even begin to tell you.”) For all the heartbreak in her novel, there is also great humour and shining little moments of truth: “The crisis passes, the crucible cools, and there we are, slightly improved, not much altered.”
The inspiration: Love is a recurring theme for Bloom. “I havean older sister I’m very close to,” she says. “And although the relationship between Iris and Evais very little like the one between me and my sister, my family background is certainly in the book — as it is, I think, for every writer, no matter what they tell you.”
All about the author
Name: Amy Bloom
Before writing: Bloom had a 20-year career as a psychotherapist before she turned to writing. “It was actually good training for becoming a writer. You learn to listen, to observe, not to interrupt. And you learn to let people tell you their stories as they understand them.”
Psychic training: There was no need for Bloom to research tarot cards in order to give Eva psychic powers. “When I was a teenager in New York, I was actually a shill
for a psychic and had some experience with fortune-telling, which proved very useful.”
In her off hours: “I’m probably the dullest person in the U.S. — I have no quirky habits, I don’t collect anything or have any interesting dietary restrictions. I like to cook, I like to read, I like to make cheap and gratifying sangria.”