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.
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—
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
Kushner deftly captures Eunice in all her awkward years as well as her adult relationship with Fox. The setting—small-town Midwest—means that Eunice remains almost untouched by social and political events of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Instead, the period comes out in the small details…This is a beautifully written book, demanding time and attention.
It’s a tribute to Dale Kushner’s talent that in her debut novel, The Conditions of Love, she can pack so much emotional reality in so few words: maternal narcissism in a sentence, family dysfunction in a paragraph.
“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 Mercury, The 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
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.
“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