Amy Bloom begins her novel, Lucky Us, “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”
I had just read Jean Kwok’s novel Mambo in Chinatown. (See July 11 blog.) She begins, “My name is Charlie Wong and I’m the daughter of a dance and a noodle-maker. My mother was once a star ballerina at the famed Beijing Dance Academy before she ran off to marry my father.” Since I read them so close together, I found a curious coincidence that both begin with an older and younger sister making sense of life after the death of a mother. At least in the beginning, both older sisters take some responsibility for the younger.
The first line of Lucky Us hints at the situation that will become quickly more complicated as Eva’s mother abandons her to the father who appears to have money and the half-sister who surprisingly takes her under her wing.
Set in the 1940s, the adventures are told with a mix of narrative and letters, some sent and some not. Iris, with Eva for an accomplice and cook, seeks her place in show business by fair means and foul. In a poignant line in one of her letters, Iris writes, “Someone once said: God gave us memory, so we could have roses in December. Someone did not add, so we could have blizzards in June and food poisoning when there was nothing to eat.”
Eva knows her father’s indifference to his daughters. Still, she says, “I wrote him once a month, and saved the pieces until my feelings passed, and then I threw the pieces away.”
The girls’ father and quirky characters bounce in and out of their lives as they bounce in and out of locations in Ohio, Hollywood, Long Island, Brooklyn, and London, all in the context of World War II and its aftermath.
Reading these two books near the same time was accidental for me, but you might just want to try it to see how two writers starting with a similar premise wind up with very different books.