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The Conditions of Love Hardcover – May 14, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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. --Susan Maguire

Review

A teenage girl endures fire, flood and the loss of her parents in this bracing, oddly uplifting debut.

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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455519758
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455519750
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,416,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dale M. Kushner grew up in New Jersey and moved to the Midwest to study at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a recipient of a Wisconsin Arts Board Grant in the Literary Arts and has been honored by a fellowship to the Wurlitzer Foundation, The Ragdale Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute as a participant of their first Writers' Conference 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 collection More Alive Than Lions Roaring was a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award at Utah State Press and The Prairie Schooner Book Competition. In 2010 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Ms. Kushner has studied at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich and has an ongoing interest in Buddhism and spiritual life. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin. The Conditions of Love is her first novel.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Conditions of Love , Dale M. Kushner

Although we may harbor desires to restore some of our youth, few of us desire to return to adolescence. Adolescence is one of the only diseases that age can cure. Starting with the titular denial of unconditional love, Dale Kushner, through the voice of Eunice, a preternaturally wise adolescent, reconditions love as intermittent drama constantly redefined by struggles with loss, guilt, and acceptance. Intimately navigable and eidetic as a pirate's map , Ms. Kushner explores the dreamscape geography of emotion from apartments, cabins, carnivals, movies and farm communities. From Wild Pea to Vieuxville Eunice's interiority continually spirals outward through a hybrid realm of altered Nature, hubris and art. Her conditions of love arrive as terrible miracles with epiphanies of forgiveness and acceptance.

The Conditions of Love is a philosophical romance and narrative Bildungsroman in the classical sense wherein the heroine, Eunice, must confront and divest herself of illusions to arrive at the realm of the spiritually genuine. Eunice is heroically bright and unconscionably optimistic. The teenage narrator is harrowingly alone, drifting through isolated islands in the marshy seas of the upper Midwest. Her identity as a young girl is amorphous, she adapts to situations like a mirror with reflection and blank. She allows the variety of her rescuers to project their weaknesses onto her, while her own peripatetic relations seem guided by ironic divine whispers. Eunice roams the novel not so much as a feminine Odysseus, but Telemachus, another child of lost wanderers. She too is haunted by living with abandonment and myth, and struggling with her incability to accomplish the tasks before her.
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Format: Hardcover
With her debut novel, THE CONDITIONS OF LOVE, poet Dale M. Kushner has created a layered examination of love in all its forms and how it impacts and shapes one girl in the late 1950s and early 1960s from childhood to maturity. The book uses three sections to trace the story of Eunice from living with her flighty, distracted mother Mern to caretaker Rose to eventual lover Fox.

Eunice lives with her single mother, as her father left when she was a baby. She dreams of who he might be, and when he shows up only to abandon her again, she continues to idolize him all out of proportion. We see her young mind struggle with accepting her mother's new lover, Sam Podesta. She imagines conversations with her father, as he expresses his disappointment in her for accepting and even loving Sam. Can she really love both her father and Sam without betraying one? Mern and Sam of course do not last, and Eunice must struggle with the loss of another father figure.

Mern and her daughter are separated in a traumatic event that leaves Eunice in the hands of Rose, a woman who lives off the land and teaches Eunice how to keep bees, care for animals, split wood and earn her sustenance from the earth. Throughout all of this, Eunice hears the absent Mern's voice mocking Rose, as Mern and Rose and their world views collide in her mind. Mern cares for nothing but clothes, movie stars and passionate affairs, while Rose is independent and practical.

Again, tragedy separates Eunice from Rose. She is taken in by a foster family, but has little investment in the parents. She and Rose have a plan to run away and continue life as it was before. However, she meets Fox and begins to fall in love.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By customer on August 24, 2014
Format: Paperback
I read TCOL cover to cover in less than 24 hours. What a brilliant work!! On every page I found phrases that belong with my collection of Oscar Wilde quotes - some ironic, some funny, some heartbreaking. Author Dale Kushner's respected and well earned reputation as a gifted poet serves her prose beautifully.

It was a pleasure participating in Eunice's development. Early in the book she sounds like a smart enough kid, but every once in a while the adroit commentary of a mature, educated and highly perceptive adult briefly comes through, but this happens seamlessly, never disrupting the narrative flow.

I could never have anticipated the direction Eunice's story would go in. Unpredictability is one of the marks of excellent story telling for me. The turn of events came as a complete shock, unexpected, horrifying. Eunice just kept on going - a lesson for all of us facing difficult times. In fact, that's Martha Argerich's personal motto -" just keep going." I was always impressed with that, and here Eunice demonstrates that philosophy perfectly.

Kushner makes numerous, poetic references to the stars. She covers a range of attitudes toward the heavens, from Mern's silly pop astrology to the most spiritually intuitive perceptions of wholeness, revealing Kushner's deeply felt relationship with the universe as a whole.

Throughout the book I was stunned by the beauty of the author's words and images. This may be prose, but it's poetic prose - imagistic, beautifully worded, inspiring, with a strong visceral component.

This would be a marvelous film and I kept wondering who would play the parts. I don't have a lot of familiarity with movie stars, but I kept seeing Eunice as young Jennifer Jones.
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