The Conditions of Love; Dale M Kushner
Grand Central - 2014
The Conditions of Love, is a wonderful coming of age story which takes place in the 1950-60’s. The story begins in the little town of Wild Pea, Illinois, where young, Eunice lives with her self-centered, unpredictable, star-struck mother. Mern is a woman with her head in clouds, and obvious to the reader early on -- she’s just not “mother material”. Eunice must never call her mother “mom”, just Mern is acceptable. For Eunice life is lonely. She has few friends and although she has met her father, he took off before she ever got a chance to know him. Eunice learns at an early age that love and the people you love, can slip away without warning.
With little stability in Eunice’s life, Mern adds even more uncertainty to the mix by moving them to a new town in Wisconsin. Soon after they settle there a flood devastates their lives separating mother and daughter. While Mern heads off to California without really looking for her daughter, Eunice is found and is taken in by a kind but somewhat odd woman named Rose.
Rose is a woman who lives off the grid in a rundown cabin that lacks even basic electricity. Rose cares about Eunice and she nurtures her love of nature, and shares with her the wisdom of her years. For Eunice, however, her search for love and stability does not end when Rose comes to her rescue, there are a few more hurdles she must face, yet her resilience in difficult times keeps her strong.
Most every significant event in this novel came alive on the page as I read. It stirred a lot of emotion in me. It was easy for me to root for Eunice given all she had been through. I could relate to her love of animals and the unconditional love she felt being surrounded by them, whether it be a fox, a sheep, a turtle or a more domestic animal like a parakeet or dog. She wasn’t sure which humans she could trust or who would abandon her if she got too close.
The Conditions of Love is a terrific literary novel that left a big impression.The novel was so well written that the story never felt depressing despite the numerous disappointments Eunice faced along the way to adulthood. The characters had depth and were intriguing, and I liked the fact that there were two male characters who genuinely cared about Eunice -- Mr. Tabachnik, a neighbor, and Sam, one of her mother’s short-termed boyfriends. There is no fast-paced action with this story, yet it was a story that held my interest throughout, Eunice is the star through and through. I enjoyed watching her mature from a young child to a young woman over a period of about 9 years. Readers who enjoy coming of age stories with substance will enjoy the debut novel.