The Conditions of Love

“I felt an enormous sadness shoot through my chest, and my eyes burned with tears. It frightened me how much I loved him; I wanted to call him back from wherever he was going, but in a rush of knowledge I realized my daddy was a tricky, dangerous man, and I could never trust his love.”

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. Rescued from a freak storm 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. At once fable and realistic story, The Conditions of Love is a book about emotional and physical survival.

The paperback edition of The Conditions of Love was published May 6. You can order it now at Amazon Barnes & Noble or Indiebound.

Three Madison-area bookstores have signed hardcover and paperback copies of The Conditions of Love which you can buy in person or order for shipment. Be sure to specify in your order that you want a signed copy.

A Room Of One’s Own

Arcadia Books (use code FREESHIP 14 to get Free Shipping)

Mystery To Me

Read a Q&A with Dale M. Kushner here.

Download the Reading Group Guide to The Conditions of Love here.

Listen to the beginning of the Audiobook version of The Conditions of Love by Dale Kushner narrated by Tara Ochs:

The full audiobook is available at

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Eunice grows up fighting for love from the people who should love her unconditionally but is bolstered by love from unexpected sources…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—


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

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 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 Reviews

The Conditions of Love is the debut novel of Dale M. Kushner, a poet and writer in Wisconsin. It moves slowly and gingerly during its opening section when Eunice is a preteen, and it might easily be viewed at the start as a coming-of-age book for a younger set of readers. But by the end of that section, when facts-of-life shocks begin to strike, it turns into a moving, at times jolting, saga.

Kushner’s scenes, like her characters, are expertly sketched, vivid and memorable. . . .  Engrossing to the end, this is a fine first novel.

Kendall Weaver, The Associated Press

“In The Conditions of Love Dale Kushner portrays with wonderful empathy a young girl’s journey towards adulthood. Kushner has an amazing sense of character and not only her heroine, the fearless Eunice, but everyone that Eunice encounters comes vividly to life as she struggles first to accommodate herself to her mother’s tumultuous feelings and then to make her own way in the world. An immaculately written, enthralling and passionate debut.”

Margot Livesey, author of MercuryThe Flight of Gemma Hardy and The House on Fortune Street

“Can this wise, funny, quirky, poignant novel really be Dale Kushner’s debut? She got everything just right–characters who you will never forget and a palpable yearning for love that you will feel in your gut. Bravo!”

Ann Hood, author of An Italian Wife, The Knitting Circle and The Obituary Writer

Review in THE RUMPUS by 

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.. . .

This is a book that begs to be read slowly. Kushner’s history with poetry serves her well. Her prose causes the reader to slow down and relish the words. She utilizes the five senses throughout the book, which gives the reader a sense of real intimacy with Eunice. She beautifully recounts the physical act of Eunice’s neighbor, Mr. Tabachnik, putting on an opera record, and then she tops it by describing the powerful music washing over a young Eunice.

The Conditions of Love is an engaging story written in a lyrical style. It’s a stunningly self-assured novel for a debut, and it leaves the reader hoping that Kushner will write a second.

Josh Mallory, Bookreporter

Kushner has a divine understanding of the ties that bind people in relationships. The Conditions of Love is rife with truths about man’s equally selfish and selfless need to experience love in its many forms. Eunice might be the central player, but the hero of this tale is Love. Eunice experiences many kinds of loss. Before and after each misadventure she seeks solace in the stable relationships of her past and present: Mr. Tabachnik, a kind neighbor; her adopted guardian, Rose; Sam, a misguided role model. Although she may often be lonely, Eunice does not experience the destitution of abandonment.

Kushner’s writing consists of equal parts reverence for the human condition and sympathy for the pain that is a necessary part of that condition. This novel is an engrossing read and difficult to put down.

Kitty Drexel, EDGE

“Dale Kushner is a remarkable mix of passion and perception. As a storyteller, she has the ability to let the mysterious force of life show itself through the smallest piece of dirt or doubt. Her depth and experience surface through her writing as a wise companion to help us on our way.”

Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening and As Far As the Heart Can See

“Dale Kushner’s novel The Conditions of Love traces the journey of a girl from childhood to young 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. At an early age Eunice encounters the difficult truths of loss and disappointment, and through an innate sense of her own worth, she perseveres. At once a fable and a realistic portrait of a sensitive and determined young girl, The Conditions of Love is funny, heartbreaking, and gorgeously rendered. In Kushner’s storytelling readers will find the wisdom of an author who has considered both the formidable depths and the transcendent potential of the human spirit.”

Janet Steen, staff writer for The Weeklings

“I’ve already praised Dale Kushner’s novel to so many friends that they keep asking why they can’t find it in the bookstores yet. I would tell you that it’s the next Housekeeping, but that might imply The Conditions of Love is derivative in some way, which it most certainly is not. Kushner’s novel offers what most readers crave—characters about whom we care very, very deeply, emotions conveyed without irony or shame, beautifully lyric prose, a strong sense of place… and wisdom, that very rare thing in a novel – or real life – wisdom. Even in the toughest market, this book is sure to find many loyal and loving readers.”

Eileen Pollack, author of The Perfect LifeThe Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boy’s ClubParadise, New York and Breaking and Entering; Zell Professor and Director of the MFA Program at the University of Michigan

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From Section One

Mern: Via Separatio

The Big Bum, she called my daddy. “Let me set the record straight on that Big Bum,” she’d say. “He stranded us when you were a mere squirt in diapers. Up and vamoosed in his goddamn got-no-words-for-it-babe way. No note. Nothing!” He’d left a hundred bucks tied with a white ribbon, five twenties, in a fry pan. My father, it should be noted, had a showman’s touch. The story of his departure grew more elaborate, more pathetic and heartrending with each passing year. Occasionally my mother conceded he had a big heart. Then she’d add he had a Big Something Else, too, and the Big Something Else got him into trouble. “A big something else?” I’d ask, concerned. “Yeah,” Mern would say, her nostrils pinched from despair. “What would you know?” A wave of self-sorrow would sweep over her, and she’d grab at the nearest soft thing, me, and smother my face against her scrawny chest.

From Section Three

Fox: Coniunctio

Slowly the second time, like the slowness of a new creation, a different story than the old creation in which God made the universe one, two, three. Our god—Fox’s and mine—marveled for eons over the beauty of his creations. Our god took his time enjoying awe. There was the wonder of rapturous sensations, contradictory and compelling, their final authority over me, the wonder of being two Eunices, one enthralled, the other cataloging her pleasure, as if some part was a turbulent wind contained within a vast, calmer atmosphere. The wonder of all those sly, enfolded places, of our bodies, tarnished and gleaming, rubies, iron, salt, and bone.