Life’s Lessons Through Love and Loss

A poet’s first stab at fiction takes on coming-of-age in the 1950s

Imagination, nature and artistic passion richly color The Conditions of Love (Grand Central Publishing, $25), Dale Kushner’s 1950s-era coming-of-age story about a teen seeking love and life purpose amid overwhelming loss.

Set in a simpler yet more hardened time, Kushner’s fiction debut centers on Eunice, a teen who must learn to trust herself and others after her quirky single mother disappears. A succession of rapid change leads her into the backwoods, into foster care and ultimately to romance and a maturing art career.

“It’s her seeking herself,” Kushner says.

Kushner, a longtime poet, says her first stab at fiction progressed organically over ten years; she never plotted the story out or preconceived the ending.

“The characters, the voices began to appear and talk to me,” she recalls, adding that they dogged her until she put them on paper.

The realization, later, that she had a publishable novel was a great awakening.

“For me, the process is about discovery.”

Karyn Saemann is a Madison-based freelance editor and book reviewer.

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