Eva and Iris are sisters, aged 12 and 16. They are unaware of each other’s existence until their father’s wife dies, and Eva’s mother leaves her unceremoniously on his doorstep. Iris is beautiful and flighty, Eva plain and practical, but somehow they form an alliance, and when their feckless father steals Iris’s savings, they run away together to Hollywood. Fame and fortune prove elusive, but the girls survive as best they may, reuniting with their father and picking up a motley crew of friends on the way. Together they live through 1940s America, dogged by poverty, bluffing their way into jobs for which they have no qualifications, falling in love, stealing a child.
Amy Bloom’s writing is exhilarating and entertaining. Song titles of the era are the chapter titles, and the novel unfolds sometimes in narrative from one of the characters, sometimes in the form of letters, sent and unsent. It touches on the prejudices of the times: homosexuality, the treatment of non-Americans during the war, race and the role of women in society. It celebrates resilience in the face of adversity and tragedy and manages to be both poignant and funny.
Not everyone will enjoy this book, as its unusual format makes it somewhat disjointed, and its vast array of characters means that some are never fully developed. It is a short novel and perhaps could have been expanded. The storyline occasionally verges on the unbelievable. The novel suggests that from despair can come happiness, and love can outweigh some serious character flaws. Personally I liked it very much, but reviewing it is like trying to grasp an eel, slippery and just out of reach. One for each reader to decide for themselves.