Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Review: The Conditions of Love
Dale M. Kushner
hardcover, 384 pages
Grand Central publishing
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Love is at the center of Dale M. Kushner's debut novel--and not just romantic love, but parental love, friendship, even the love between a woman and her parakeet. The Conditions of Love is the story of Eunice, who is ten years old when the novel opens in 1953.Eunice's mother, Mern, had Eunice at age seventeen. Eunice's father is a handsome ne'er-do-well who disappears from her life when she is an infant, only to reappear just long enough for Eunice to love him worshipfully. Then, of course, he disappears again.
Eunice's childhood as an outsider, raised by a moody and haphazard mother, sets her up for a lifetime seeking love and connection. The novel is divided into sections, with each section corresponding to a period in Eunice's life....and to her spiritual and romantic searching. There are lifebuoys in Eunice's life, but no solid anchors. Mern is undependable, mercurial, and often more childish than her daughter. A neighbor teaches Eunice about opera and friendship; one of Mern's suitors feeds Eunice and longs to take care of her. But relationships are fleeting for Eunice, and she becomes a kind of orphan at sixteen, completely unmoored, trying to invent a life for herself.
The Conditions of Love is written in a lush style, driven by character and voice. The mother-daughter relationship is central to the novel, but so are all the various relationships than encompass love, up to and including romantic and sexual love. The story is told in a kind of torrent of words, and many details and facts are more or less glossed over (Eunice's schooling, for instance, or any peer relationships). The novel is set during an era of cataclysmic change in this country, and most of it is never mentioned (the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and other social and political movements are peripheral at best). The Conditions of Love is the story of an outsider, a lone child who in some senses is nearly feral (Eunice gets many of her ideas of how men and women relate to one another from Hollywood movies).
All that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Conditions of Love. Dale M. Kushner explores love and forgiveness without ever being predictable or cliche; this novel is the farthest thing from a formula romance novel. As Eunice grows throughout the novel, she develops from a preternaturally wise child, to an impetuous and foolish teenager, to a forgiven and forgiving young woman. If you like character-driven fiction, and are drawn to stories about relationships at their most complicated, you will probably find yourself enthralled by The Conditions of Love.
Dale M. Kushner has a web site at http://dalemkushner.com