The luck of the central character of Amy Bloom's latest novel, set in the 1940s, is mostly bad--though the serial abandonments she experiences at the hands of her loved ones probably don't truly qualify as luck. Eva is the illegitimate daughter of a married man, whose wife has recently died. Her mother decides to drive to his place to "see what might be in it for us." Determining there is nothing in it for her, the mother drives off, leaving Eva with father Edgar and half-sister Iris.
This is the start of a series of unlikely adventures in which teenage Eva generally plays a supporting role: She and Iris head for Hollywood so Iris can become a star; after a promising start, Iris's career is sabotaged by Hedda Hopper and another young actress with whom she had a romantic fling. Edgar, Iris, and Eva decide to move on to New York, along with Iris's make-up artist Francisco, where Edgar (formerly a college professor) and Iris pass themselves off as a butler and governess for a wealthy Italian family. Iris falls in love with the cook, Reenie. She reports Reenie's German-American husband Gus as a spy (he is not, but we learn of his travails, first in an internment camp and then in Germany, where he was "repatriated") and kidnaps an orphan to satisfy Reenie's baby-hunger. When Reenie is killed and Iris is injured in a fire, Iris leaves for specialized treatment in London . . . and doesn't come back. Once again, Eva is left behind, this time with a young boy to raise. Soon, Eva is also caring for her terminally ill father, who it turns out was not who he claimed to be. And on and on. There is some good luck in the people Eva meets along the way, but most of these relationships come and go. This makes the ending somewhat discordant for me, as it is extremely upbeat, with a lovely description of a photograph of the family that Eva has cobbled together.
To be honest, I don't quite know what to make of Lucky Us. It is, to some extent, a story of rising above one's circumstances, of persevering--yet the redemption comes so late that it felt inauthentic to me. I enjoyed Gus's story, but it seemed somewhat peripheral for much of the book. I love that the chapter titles are all the titles of songs of the era and the character of Clara, an African American jazz singer (who happens to have vitiligo) who becomes romantically involved with Edgar, is interesting and endearing--but she not only arrives late but leaves early. I guess I'll have to go with a "thumbs sideways" assessment.
He wanted to lick off her makeup, to kiss the perfect, bare Clara underneath. Clara thought that it would be good if he did; it would be cool water on her blistered heart if he did.