AMY BLOOM’s new novel, Lucky Us, invites us back to World War II and its aftermath with a fragmented family struggling to retain their bonds during a period of turbulent change. Bloom dishes out her story in spoonfuls, using both narration and letters; at times the book reads like a box of old forgotten missives you might find in someone’s closet after they passed on — pastiches and fragments from the past that, when read as a whole, complete a portrait of a time past.
Central to the novel are Iris and Eva, half-sisters thrown together when Eva’s mother abandons her. They trek from Ohio to Hollywood, where Iris finds success as an actress — until she is outed as a lesbian. The sisters then travel to New York, where new struggles test the family and their ideas of love and unity.
I spoke with Bloom on the phone recently about recreating a part of the American past.
David Breithaupt: Why did you decide to set your new novel, Lucky Us, during World War II?
Amy Bloom: I wanted to write about different aspects of World War II, including the bombing of Germany and the internment of Germans. Also, it’s a rich period of change in America, and I would say that the seeds of change that took place in the ’60s and ’70s were actually planted at that time. There’s a parallel between the time my novel takes place and today, just as there is a parallel between Roosevelt and Obama. And if you want to be reassured, it’s reassuring to remember we have often endured a high level of uncivilized discourse and vitriol — Yes! We have!
Also, it’s a pleasure going back in time; it’s like going to a country, one not entirely unfamiliar but still different from your own. I like to do enough research to immerse myself so that it’s not as if I’m writing about another period but that I’m writing about the present as it unfolds in front of me.
How is it making the jump from short story to novel? Does the work decide by itself?
I love the idea of so you’re making a novel. So I’m making a novel. It’s a little bit like saying, “Oh, you’re running more than 5K, so let’s call it a marathon.” So you do. But of course it is quite different. If I’m still writing after 20 pages it will probably be a novel. (My writing binges are usually two pages long. I’m a very slow writer. Unfortunately.)
I love the short-story form. I think a great short story is just as hard to write as a very, very good novel. I think short stories have more elasticity than people think, but I also recognize that there are some things they can’t really do.
I wanted to ask you about your profession as a therapist and how that may have influenced or filtered into your work.
It’s always an interesting question. The training is to keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, which is excellent training for a novelist as well. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t finish people’s sentences for them. All of that is great training for any writer, I think. But I don’t really think that psychoanalysts have deeper insights into motivations than anybody else. It’s a nice idea though. You know what’s remarkable is that people in therapy are quite a bit like people who are not in therapy.
David Breithaupt has written for The Nervous Breakdown, Rumpus, Exquisite Corpse and others.