Family Ties: Lucky Us (review)

Lucky Us
by Amy Bloom
Random House

I judged a book by its cover. I did. When I saw the tightrope-walking zebra and lion, the stage and red-I’m-assuming-velvet curtains on the cover of Lucky Us, I had visions of Water for Elephants, for some reason. The blurb sure didn’t give me that impression, though–two sisters, a “hopeful star” and a “sidekick”, a cross-country trek, promises of fame … that was my kind of story and it sat in my queue, waiting. About the time I was ready to start my next book, I caught a bit of The Diane Rehm Show (link) featuring author Amy Bloom–totally missing the title of her novel–and liked what I heard about two sisters, their escape to Hollywood, love lost and found. Imagine my surprise when I opened Lucky Us the next day on my Kindle–same book!

Iris and Eva are separated by several years and two moms–it is their flimflam father who joins them, but still a pretty pitiful excuse for family. Dad isn’t really the English professor he’s fashioned himself to be in a small Ohio college town–he’s just a Shakespeare quoting hustler who has his cover blown when Iris’s mother dies. Desperate for fame and fortune, Iris enters elocution contest after contest, stashing her prize money so she can make a getaway–the sooner the better. Dad steals the money, but the girls still make it out on a Greyhound and are California bound.

From first Hollywood and then New Jersey, Bloom surrounds the girls with characters who could be straight out of John Irving novel–the Mexican makeup artist Francisco and his beautician sisters; the Torelli’s, a nouveau riche family of Catholic Italians; Rose Sawyer, the cut-throat lesbian actress; Gus, an innocent German-American imprisoned as a traitor; Danny, the stolen orphan; Clara, the Black jazz club singer. But this cast of characters didn’t just move the plot along. Eva and Iris piece together a rag-tag family of sorts to replace the one they’d never had.

I liked that. Eva’s family wasn’t modeled on Leave it to Beaver. It was messy and patched together–but it sustained them.

And isn’t that what family is meant to do?

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