Amy Bloom is very much at the height of her storytelling powers with her latest novel, Lucky Us (Random House, $26). Bloom deftly spins the tale of two half-sisters, Eva and Iris, in the 1940s who are introduced to each other in less-than-ideal circumstances. After her mother drops her off on her father’s doorstep like a package, the thirteen-going-on-thirty Eva meets her older sister, Iris, who takes one look at her and sets out to make the most of an unwanted younger sibling. When Iris decides it’s time to leave their less-than-moral father behind, she and Eva embark on a series of misadventures that take them from Hollywood to London. With clean, clear prose, Bloom unfolds the sisters’ off-kilter bond and conveys a deep empathy for these two determined and complicated young ladies, who continually redefine what family could and should be. It’s a delightful read that goes by far too fast
With her fourth novel, Emily St. John Mandel turns her craft to a post-plague future in which a wandering troupe of Shakespearean actors and musicians, the Traveling Symphony, preserves the cultural knowledge of civilization while scavenging for relics in abandoned towns and providing a link among disparate surviving communities. Station Eleven (Knopf, $24.95) portrays their daily effort to protect what is good and valuable in the midst of hostility, despotism, and insanity. The book asks how our origins determine our course and purpose in life and whether force, coercion, and fear—or art, imagination, and human decency—will save us. This is masterful and life-affirming fiction.