I'm not as smart as I think I am. Sometimes I get a little uppity, thinking I'm this crusty veteran reader who's seen it all and can't be challenged by contemporary lit. I suspect my cocky attitude is the result of my years of teaching. I mean, it was my job to have all the answers. I basically got a degree in how to read and write. For a brief time, my life's work was to disperse my vast knowledge to largely indifferent teens. I was paid $36,000 a year to be right all the time. (How's that for a mixed message?)
Amy Bloom served me up humble pie with a side of crow. I read almost this entire book thinking, “Okay, but why do I care?” Here's the setup: Twelve-year-old Eva is abandoned by her mother, left unceremoniously at the house where her father lives with her half-sister, Iris. Iris's mother has just died. Their father blithely introduces them, and so begins one of the stranger tales of sisterhood I've read.
So why wasn't I buying? Eva and Iris were sufficiently quirky, their lives peppered with interesting conflicts and unexpected turns, but I still wasn't hooked. I wasn't emotionally invested. Like my former students, I thought the story was nice and all, but I didn't see the point in bearing witness to these people's flawed existence.
It wasn't until the last 50 pages that I finally got it. If the plot of a novel seems beside the point, it's probably beside the point. Duh, English teacher.
The book covers a significant span of time in relatively few pages. Bloom doesn't flesh out every moment of every year in her characters' lives. Instead she's a master of scenes, each one an episode illuminating something specific—a character's change of heart, a historical allusion, a shift in a relationship. Lucky Us is literary pointillism, an arrangement of tiny parts that together become a whole portrait.
So as Iris pursues fame as an actress, as Eva searches for a new mother figure, as various colorful people float in and out of their orbit, just remember that it's not really what happens to them that's important. It's the way they cobble together a patchwork family out of the people who are available: an aging gay makeup artist, a twice-orphaned boy, an American turned German immigrant turned back again, their unreliable but charismatic father, and each other, despite years of strain and separation. That's what makes this book worth reading.
With regards to NetGalley and Random House for the advance copy. On sale July 29, 2014.