The Conditions of Love by Dale M. Kushner
The story is divided into thirds, the first being about the love you are born into, familial love. The second is about the nurturing love we are often lucky to receive from people outside our family, and the third is romantic love.
The main characters are definitely an eclectic group and do not necessarily populate all three parts of the book; however they influence Eunice throughout.
Mern – Eunice’s mother, who does not want to be called Mama…ever. She would say she was a makeup “arteeste”, but in reality she is a chain smoking, rum and coke drinking, manicurist at a beauty shop, who loves the cinema and has questionable taste in men.
Frank – The handsome and charming deadbeat dad, who visits just once in person, yet makes a lasting impression.
Mr. Tabachnik – A Holocaust survivor, neighbor, and friend. He introduces Eunice to opera music, encyclopedias, and unconditional love.
Sam – The most decent of Mern’s boyfriends. His intentions are sincere, but his delivery dubious.
Rose – A woman living off the grid, who like all of us, has some baggage. Rose rescues and nurtures Eunice when Mern essentially abandons her after a devastating flood.
Fox – The older man who ultimately rescues Eunice when she runs from foster care. He encourages her artistic talent and they teach each other about lasting love.
The life experiences which shape Eunice include disappointment, flood, fire, and a horrifying accident. It would have been easy for this story to become weighed down by negativity; however the voice of Eunice is so heartbreakingly sincere it never feels despondent. My only criticism? It took a bit too long to know Fox as a character and I was concerned his role in Eunice’s life would go in a lecherous direction. I momentarily toyed with the idea of not reading all of part three, but I am glad I didn’t give in to nagging doubt.
I loved Eunice. She had the same matter of fact sense of humor as Elizabeth Berg’s Katie from Joy School and the resilience of Hallie from Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden. The language of this book is lovely, so I am not surprised to find Kushner was first recognized for her poetry. I will be watching for future novels to come from her.
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