Lucky Us

DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. 

Lucky Us
Amy Bloom
© 2014 (expected publication date July 29, 2014)
212 pages (ARC e-book)

When I was in high school, Alanis Morrisette released her single “Ironic”:

And, immediately, the world revolted.

“Nothing in that song is ironic!” proclaimed every angsty 17-year-old wearing Doc Martens (as she took a break from smoking cloves, mourning the loss of Kurt Cobain, and reading Jack Kerouac).

Even The New York Times got in on the rant:

If it rains on your wedding day, that’s a coincidence, not an irony. If you win the lottery and drop dead before claiming the money, it’s good luck followed by bad luck. If you meet the man of your dreams and then meet his beautiful wife, it’s a bummer. But if a song called “Ironic” contains no irony, is that in itself ironic? Nope.

It may just be … dumb.

Now, nearly twenty years later, talk of the world’s best-known malapropism is still going strong. Last year, a couple of sisters had the Interwebs abuzz with their spoof “It’s Finally Ironic”:

To this day, if “Ironic” gets played on satellite radio (listen to ‘90s on 9 or Lithium for long enough, and you’ll hear it) or some silly girl decides to sing it at karaoke, someone will inevitably pipe up to point out poor Alanis’s faux pas . . . as if everyone in the world hasn’t heard it a billion times before.

So, why is this something we are still talking about? How did this one little song have the power to turn a country full of people who regularly use phrases like “have drank” and “could of” into evil, angry word police?

Well, here’s the simple answer: we don’t like false advertising. If you’re going to pose questions like, “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?” in your song, the answers must be YES, resoundingly. Otherwise, people are bound to get a little salty.

If Pharrell’s song “Happy” had been anything other than the tritest, treacliest ditty ever, people would have been pissed. But because it has lyrics like “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth/Because I’m happy” it became a hugely, gloriously popular hit. “Happy” is exactly what it’s supposed to be. It lives up to its name.

Alanis should have known: a song called “Ironic” has to be all about irony.

Which brings me, at long last, to Amy Bloom’s latest novel, Lucky Us.  If there were a prize for the most inappropriate title, Lucky Us would give “Ironic” a run for its money.

What is Lucky Us about, you ask? Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

Lucky-Us-Book-CoverLove and adventure and surprising events all wrapped up in a “fantastically funny novel” “filled with gorgeous writing”! And look at the book cover with the happy little zebra balancing atop the happy little lion on the happy little tightrope!

Lucky Us, indeed!

Sorry, my friends, but this is not a light, uplifting, funny summer romp. It is, ultimately and round-aboutly, a book about the importance of family (broadly defined) . . . but the tragedy and heartbreak you have to endure to arrive at that message probably aren’t worth it.

This book is depressing. And dark. And filled with the worst of the worst: There’s abandonment. There’s failure. There’s betrayal. There’s death (slow, sad, painful death and quick, unexpected, painful death). There’s kidnapping. There’s even autoimmune disease.

Lucky? I wouldn’t wish this kind of luck on my worst enemies. Unlucky Us is more like it. (Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?)

Rating: 2/5

The book is not bad, per se. But, based on the title, the blurb, and the cover, I was expecting something different, lighter, and happier.

The writing is largely adequate. There are some funny and cute moments (although they are fleeting). But there’s also a lot of lazy writing. For example, part of the book is made up of letters, many from Iris to her sister Evie. They serve a purpose in the book: to dole out background information about/memories of the sisters’ shared past experiences. And that’s exactly what they read like: devices to convey information. They don’t read like real letters at all:

Do you ever think about Mrs. Gruber? As soon as she stuck her head out the window you skittered up to her, breathless and shy, the way you never actually were, and offered up the bus story about our late papa and brave mama and our languishing midwestern fortune. I can’t imagine she believed you but she liked you and she didn’t mind me. She took our money before she handed me the key. One tiny room with two beds, a half fridge and two-burner stovetop and the bathroom down the hall. I’ve seen worse—so have you, I imagine—but, back then, it was the worst place I’d ever been.

Situations that should have been exciting fell flat, and characters who could have been interesting were not fully developed.  I may be judging the book too harshly based on my misplaced expectations, but, because most of the book is so damned bleak, I just couldn’t get excited about it.

The hype:

  • An August 2014 LibraryReads List selection
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month for August 2014
  • An Indie Next List pick for August 2014

Who should read it: It’s summer! Summer is a time for the book equivalents of Pharrell’s “Happy.” It is not the time for tragic and depressing books masquerading as happy books. So, read a perfect summer book like Where’d You Go, Bernadette instead.

Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:

  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell (an Amazon Best Book of the Month for July 2014; the #1 LibraryReads selection for July 2014; an Indie Next Pick for July 2014)
  • Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg (an Amazon Best Book of the Month and LibraryReads Lists selection for May 2014 by the Orangette blogger and Bon Appétit columnist)

2 thoughts on “Lucky Us

  1. I’ve defended Alanis before, and I’ll do it again (take that, NYTimes).
    A few ironies in “Ironic”:
    “And as the plane crashed down, he thought, ‘Well, isn’t this nice.'” A textbook example of verbal irony.
    “A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break.” This is situational irony; no one would take a cigarette break in a location s/he expected to see such a sign (outcome opposite of that expected).
    “He won the lottery and died the next day.” He was thinking he was on easy street, but he ended up unable even to receive his winnings. Outcome opposite that expected.
    “A death-row pardon, two minutes too late.” The pardoner thought s/he was saving a life, but, instead, a person died. Outcome opposite that expected.
    “A free ride when you’ve already paid.” You expected to have to pay, but the outcome was opposite.
    “The good advice you just didn’t take.” This is both situational and dramatic irony. The observer/advisor in the situation saw the outcome you didn’t. You discounted the advice, expecting a different outcome.

    So for all those who said “Ironically, ‘Ironic’ lacks irony,” the irony’s on you (unless you were saying it ironically).

    • Hahaha! I was waiting for a comment like this from you. Glad you didn’t let me down. Maybe you should read Lucky Us now and point out all of the ways in which the book’s characters really are lucky . . .

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