Eva Acton isn't lucky at all. A knock-kneed teenage bookworm from nowhere, Ohio, she is largely unloved and unlovely. She's always a trouper, though: ''It seemed to me,'' she reflects, ''that if you had to have a mother who'd dropped you off like a bag of dirty laundry and a father who was not above stealing from you (or your sister), you were pretty lucky to have that same sister take you to Hollywood and wash your underpants with hers and share her sandwiches with you.''
The Hollywood of 1942, of course, is no safe haven. (Was it ever?) And that sister, Iris, is hardly to be trusted either; her ruthless pursuit of love and limelight leaves all sorts of collateral damage. But Eva, Amy Bloom's indomitable creation, picks up the pieces and makes a new kind of family from them. The elderly landladies, gay Mexican makeup artists, and purloined Jewish orphans who come into her orbit are often as lost as she is and happy enough to be found, at least for a while.
Before becoming the author of acclaimed novels and stories (Away, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You), Bloom trained as a clinical social worker, and she writes with such spare, efficient grace that Lucky Us can feel oddly impassive, even bloodless. But her words are carefully chosen to cut clean and deep. When World War II comes in from the novel's periphery in the form of Eva's friend Gus, who has been deported back to his parents' German homeland, he describes the brutal bombing of Pforzheim in a few quick, devastating strokes. Even Lucky's casual asides stack up, like pearls strung on a wire: Eva's father is ''clever and shallow. Thin silverplate over nickel''; a spilled bottle of brandy makes the room smell ''like a French accident.'' Taken together, they make this odd, precocious girl's story feel as big and small and strangely marvelous as life itself. A-