Unusually for me, I came to Amy Bloom’s writing through her short stories. Her first collection, Come to Me, was published when I was still a bookseller and I was interested by Bloom’s background as a psychotherapist, made much of when I was pitched the book. I think she was still practising then. It seemed to me after reading her stories that she must be a very fine therapist indeed: they were quietly empathetic, understanding of human weakness. From her biographical notes it looks as if Bloom has long since given up her practice and is writing full-time but Lucky Us has that same empathetic quality which makes flawed characters so attractive, and there are many in this novel, often pretending to be someone completely different from the person they are.
It opens strikingly with Eva, delivered to her father’s door and left there with only a small suitcase to show for her twelve years with her mother. Edgar’s wife has died leaving him with Iris, Eva’s sixteen-year-old half-sister and Eva’s mother has spotted an opportunity. Tangled relationships, already, and we’re not even through the first chapter – there will be many more to come. Stretching over a decade from 1939, Lucky Us follows Eva from her unceremonious arrival following her eccentric route through all kinds of permutations of family which takes her to Hollywood with Iris then east across the country into the welcoming, generous arms of the Torellis, before tragedy propels her into life as a fortune-teller easing the sorrows of New York ladies, then eventually to an entirely satisfactory if surprising resolution.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable ride – from descriptions of decadent Hollywood parties to stories of life in a German displaced persons camp, Bloom’s writing is vibrant and her characterisation astute. She knows how to turn a stylish phrase but it’s not showy stuff, and all the better for that. The daughter of ‘a mother who dropped [her] off like a bag of dirty laundry’ and a father ‘ who was not above stealing from [her]’, Eva is quietly smart, mature and capable under the most difficult of circumstances while Iris, seemingly steely in her determination to be a star, finds herself derailed by passion, behaving in an unforgivable fashion. Poignancy is laced with a pleasingly sly humour and after a little awkwardness with its structure – at least for me – it flows beautifully. A long way from psychotherapy then – although there’s a nice moment when Eva neatly turns her fortune-telling into an effective bit of therapy – but just as humane and empathetic as her early work.
And that’s it for me for a week or so. I’m off to the land of cream teas and alpacas for a spot of walking and no doubt some reading.