August 23, 2014

Short takes: Book reviews, in brief

Amy Bloom’s “Lucky Us: A Novel” and Tiphanie Yanique’s “Land of Love and Drowning”


Lucky Us: A Novel

Amy Bloom, Random House, 240 pages

“There is no such thing as a good writer and a bad liar,” Amy Bloom wrote in her 1999 short story “The Story.” It’s a vivid bit of double vision – Bloom commenting on storytelling even as she engages in it, and it suggests a brittle humor that I associate with her. I kept thinking about “The Story” as I read Bloom’s new novel “Lucky Us,” looking for its bite.

This is one disappointment of the book, which unfolds with a distressing lack of friction, leaving us with little about which to care. The story of half-sisters Eva and Iris, who end up first in Hollywood and then in Brooklyn after having left their ne’er-do-well father in the early days of World War II, “Lucky Us” is an attempt at an American picaresque.

What Eva is talking about is story, which is all we have to shape experience, to create the world as it should be. It’s a point Bloom makes explicit throughout “Lucky Us,” which moves from voice to voice, from character to character, with the elusive texture of a reverie.

Los Angeles Times

Land of Love and Drowning

Tiphanie Yanique, Riverhead, 358 pages

“Nowadays people think historians are stuffy types, but history is a kind of magic I doing here.” So says Anette, the most compelling character in “Land of Love and Drowning” by Tiphanie Yanique. A multigenerational novel set in Yanique’s native Virgin Islands, it opens just before the U.S. arrives, after purchasing several of the islands from Denmark in 1917. It concludes in the 1970s.

The coming of the Americans will change everything. The newcomers snap up prime real estate and privatize beaches, increasingly isolating themselves from the native population – except when they want a dose of local color as a backdrop. Meanwhile, islanders are shipped off to war, experiencing Jim Crow first-hand in Louisiana – decades before their kids watch Birmingham and Selma on television.

But while Yanique’s novel keeps an eye on these troublesome outsiders, its focus and energies are found elsewhere, as multiple narrators spin alternative histories rather than blandly accepting those being imposed. “Nothing ever happen just so,” Anette tells us. “It must be story.” One may not be able to escape the past. But one can learn to read and tell its slant.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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