The Conditions of Loveby Dale M. Kushner
Dale M. Kushner's novel The Conditions of Love traces the journey of a girl from childhood to adulthood as she reckons with her parents' abandonment, her need to break from society's limitations, and her overwhelming desire for spiritual and erotic love. In 1953, ten-year-old Eunice lives in the backwaters of Wisconsin with her outrageously narcissistic/i>
Dale M. Kushner's novel The Conditions of Love traces the journey of a girl from childhood to adulthood as she reckons with her parents' abandonment, her need to break from society's limitations, and her overwhelming desire for spiritual and erotic love. In 1953, ten-year-old Eunice lives in the backwaters of Wisconsin with her outrageously narcissistic mother, a manicureeste and movie star worshipper. Abandoned by her father as an infant, Eunice worries that she will become a misfit like her mother. When her mother's lover, the devoted Sam, moves in, Eunice imagines her life will finally become normal. But her hope dissolves when Sam gets kicked out, and she is again alone with her mother. A freak storm sends Eunice away from all things familiar. Rescued by the shaman-like Rose, Eunice's odyssey continues with a stay in a hermit's shack and ends with a passionate love affair with an older man. Through her capacity to redefine herself, reject bitterness and keep her heart open, she survives and flourishes. In this, she is both ordinary and heroic. At once fable and realistic story, The Conditions of Love is a book about emotional and physical survival. Through sheer force of will, Eunice saves herself from a doomed life.
This engaging examination of a mother and daughter's relationship will appeal to the same audience that embraced Mona Simpson's acclaimed classic Anywhere But Here and Elizabeth Strout's bestselling Amy and Isabelle.
As this coming-of-age novel begins in 1953, narrator Eunice is living in a small Illinois town with her mother, Mern, whose affection for Hollywood movies is nearly matched by her erratic behavior and questionable taste in men. Eunice's reprobate father is out of the picture, but when he returns for just one day to take her to a carnival, it's transformative for her. Alas, dad is back in the shadows fast, and Mern's boyfriends don't last long either, signaling the grand theme of this novel: The love of others is something that always seems to slip just out of reach. A nearly biblical flood separates Mern and Eunice, putting the girl in the care of Rose, a flighty but compassionate earth-goddess type, and the knowledge about nature that Eunice picks up serves her well when she falls into the orbit of an attractive farmer named Fox-until catastrophe strikes yet again. Kushner seems to have taken more than a few lessons from Joyce Carol Oates about both crafting a novel with a broad scope and putting female characters through the wringer. But there's also a lightness to Eunice's narration that keeps the Job-ian incidents from feeling oppressive-she's observant, witty and genuinely matures across the nine years in which the novel is set. Kushner makes some structural missteps-for instance, she delays revealing much detail about Fox, which dulls his character early on and blunts the impact of the novel's climactic drama. But Kushner is remarkably poised for a first-time novelist, offering an interesting adolescent who's possessed of more than a little of Huck Finn's pioneer spirit.
A fine exploration of growing up, weathering heartbreak and picking oneself up over and over.Kirkus
When Eunice is 10 years old, her father comes back to Wild Pea, Illinois, and promises to buy her a horse. She never sees him again. Her mother, Mern, is heartbroken but soon comforted by the attentions of the flawed but loving Sam Podesta. Eunice grows up fighting for love from the people who should love her unconditionally but is bolstered by love from unexpected sources, her downstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor, and her pet turtle, Eunice Turtle. As a young teenager, she is literally rescued by Rose, a patient teacher, who loses her to foster care and Eunice's first stirrings of romantic love. Eunice is a lonely, artistic girl who grows into a temperamental young woman whose strength and capacity for love belie her tough upbringing. This is poet Kushner's first novel, and her roots show; passages describing even the bleakest midwestern landscapes are artfully drawn. A coming-of-age story that wonderfully combines literary style with heartbreaking plot twists and still manages to be uplifting, even before the epilogue that ties everything together.Booklist
- Grand Central Publishing
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- 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.20(d)
Meet the Author
Dale M. Kushner graduated the Vermont College MFA Program in Creative Writing, and founded The Writer's Place, a literary center in Madison, Wisconsin. Ms. Kushner is a recipient of a Wisconsin Arts Board Grant in the Literary Arts, a fellowship at the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. As well, she was a participant with other leading writers in the recent Fetzer Institute's first writers' retreat on compassion and forgiveness. Her work has been widely published in literary journals including IMAGE, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, Witness, Fifth Wednesday and elsewhere. Her most recent poetry book More Alive Than Lions Roaring was a finalist for The May Swenson Poetry Award at Utah State Press, The Prairie Schooner Book Competition, the Agha Shahid Ali Prize at University of Utah Press and The Tupelo Prize.
Ms. Kushner has been a long-time investigator of the intersection between writing and spiritual life. She is currently on the faculty of The Assisi Institute in Brattleboro, VT, a teaching center that serves as an international focus point for leading thinkers and groundbreaking conversation on the work of C.G. Jung and the relationship between psyche and matter.
She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her family and dog, Carmelita. This is her first novel.
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This book is nothing short of amazing and is, hands down, the best book I have read in years. I started it the day I received it and read into the night unable to put it down—and finished about 3 AM. Some books are plot driven, some language driven, and some character driven. Very few have all, but The Conditions is the genuine article. Characters that you will never forget brought to life with language that soars, and a plot you cannot turn away from. I predict a generation of baby girls being named Eunice, people who do nails calling themselves manicureestes, and pet turtles in every house. It has been compared to Housekeeping and Huck Finn, and The Conditions of Love is a must read.
This is a literary tour de force that portrays the internal and external worlds of the characters with insight and mastery. Through the eyes of a beguiling and enthralling heroine, Eunice, Kushner stimulates all 5 of the readers’ senses to plumb the depths of the mysteries of love in all its complex permutations and manifestations— all its highs and lows. One theme is that the different types of love (family, mentor, erotic) are not in competition. There is room in the human heart for all. The book is also about tragedy and loss. Kushner has expressed intrigue with why some people not only survive adverse circumstances but thrive. Such is the case for Eunice. She keeps her heart open to the conditions of love, and flourishes. There is heartbreak and tragedy in this book, as well as splendor and wonder—as it is with love. The author’s background as a poet is evident. The language is so beautiful it makes you want to not put the book down, yet simultaneously read slowly to savor every image and word. I cannot believe this is a debut novel. I relish whatever Kushner may create for us next.
I'm torn over how I feel about this book; on one hand, it indeed is a beautiful portrait of how love manifests in the life of Eunice, but on the other, it moves so lethargically, that oftentimes I found myself zoning out, and even skimming towards the end because I just wanted to be finished. You have to have a lot of patience to appreciate a book like The Conditions of Love. Because the book is split up into three distinct sections that trace the different types of love Eunice experiences in each one, it was like reading three separate stories, all fluidly interconnected. The first part, in which Eunice comes to terms with accepting being abandoned by her highly glorified father, reads historically. It will definitely induce nostalgia for children of the fifties, and for any younger generations, it will feel like reading about your own grandmother's childhood—a deeply troubled childhood at that, but nonetheless lushly told. It's a solid introduction to our protagonist, and it moves with stunning detail and clarity. The second part is languid, almost mystical, and drags on as time does throughout the novel. I love how Kushner paces Eunice's teenage years—in which she learns to love a mother figure of a stranger—to mimic how unhurriedly her own life passes at this sage. The third part definitely has its exciting, wholly erotic moments, but honestly it was the wordiest for me. I pretty much lost interest in Eunice's keen, but unnecessarily lengthy, observations on everything, and began to skim this section, which is probably why some of the story might be lost on me. This is hardly a devastating critique, however. Overall, I was highly impressed with Kushner's vivid flourish to a theatrically set, poignant first novel. Pros: Gorgeously written // Eunice is well versed and lovable // Emotionally turbulent // Strongly personified characters Cons: Very dense and slow moving (but never boring) Verdict: Dazzlingly detailed, remarkably poised, and wise to its perceptive core, Dale M. Kushner's debut novel is a fictional young woman's autobiographical account of love's grandest entrances and most devastating exits throughout her life. While I was not a huge fan of how slowly the book moved, especially towards the end, I will never forget Eunice's heartbreaks, nor the striking cast of characters. A fascinating following of an ordinary girl's maturation and its extraordinary moments, The Conditions of Love strongly creates a sense of longing for a woman you've only met through paper. Rating: 7 out of 10 hearts (4 stars): Not perfect, but overall enjoyable; borrow, don't buy! Source: Complimentary copy provided by tour publicist via publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, TLC and Hachette!).
This was a curious story and felt a little "off beat". I found Eunice to be for the most part a likable girl. You really felt for her, and her lot in life. While I couldn't identify with Eunice on a personal level (while I was raised by a divorced mother in borderline poverty, my mother sacrificed for us kids and did everything she could for us), I felt like I knew Eunice. She resembled many girls (and boys) that I have known in my life. Kids who never had enough-- enough food, enough attention, enough schooling, enough guidance, enough love, enough of anything except perhaps more than enough hits and barbed words thrown their way-- and kids who grew up way too fast. Eunice's mother Mern never wanted to be a mother. She even insists Eunice call her by her first name rather than "Ma". She is self-centered and self-absorbed, putting her needs and desires before that of her young daughter. She's always seeking happiness and self-worth in strange men. Her moods are mercurial, wavering from resentment toward Eunice and the demands of a child, to wanting to cuddle Eunice and be her best friend. Eunice longs for a father she doesn't remember, and other men take on the role of father figure, from Mr. Tabachnik who lives downstairs and has sweet nicknames for her like "CC Dumpling", to her mother's new live-in boyfriend Sam, sweet and gentle Sam who brings life to the house and cares tenderly for Eunice. And later there is the enigmatic animal-loving wood nymph Rose, who becomes a mother figure to Eunice and teaches her much about independence, survival and self-reliance. And later still, the moody Fox who is drawn to her and captures her imagination. My final word: The characters were well-drawn, leaving me with an understanding of who they were and why they behaved the way they did. The story reminds me of Mr. Tabachnik's advice to Eunice: "Mr. Tabachnik placed a trembling hand on the crown of my head and bent to kiss me. Out of the ugly and terrible comes beauty. I shouldn't forget, he said." That's how this story was. It was a little dreary and depressing, and yet beautiful. Heartbreaking and yet uplifting. And while I found it sweet and gentle and moving, I fear that it will also be forgettable. I don't think this will be one of those stories that haunts me. We were two passing ships in the night, this story and I. And that's okay. We had a good night.
The scenes and characters are sketched with an expert hand, both vividly and memorably. The style is lyrical and stunning. Kushner writes with an assured hand that has reverence for the human condition, and sympathy for the pain that is an inevitable part of being human. This novel is engrossing to the end and one you will not want to put down I loved this book. It is amazing and hard to think it is a debut novel.
I cannot understand how this book received five stars. The writing is very good, but the story is questionable at best. I had to force myself to finish the book and when I did, I was left feeling as though I had wasted countless hours. The book is depressing at best, and again, hard to believe.