The legend goes that the Eskimos have dozens of words for snow. Well, Madison author Dale Kushner thinks we should have more than one word for “love” in the English language.
Her debut novel, The Conditions of Love, explores the many iterations of love, from the perspective of the young protagonist Eunice. As she struggles to discern what love is all about, she learns about the depths and limits of familial love, the importance of friendship and mentoring, and about passion, desire, devotion, and loyalty.
"The whole book is about an education about loving and conditions of loving, and do we give unconditional love to people or what does that mean or what can we expect?" Kushner says.
The book is written in three parts. The first section focuses on Eunice’s education about love at the hands of her mother, Mern - a fairly narcissistic and creative type who often is unconcerned about her daughter's development. Mern looks for love in all the wrong places, but often ignores it when it is right in front of her. Couple that with abandonment by her biological father and later Mern's boyfriend Sam, and Eunice comes to see love as intertwined with loss.
"Loss is part of the human condition and Eunice gets a big wallop of it early on," Kushner says. "It shaped her, and in my mind she's a real heroine because she keeps her heart open, and she doesn't' become bitter, she doesn't seek revenge, she continues to love."
That allows her to open up to a stranger-turned-confidante named Rose, a woodsy and independent woman with a backstory of her own. Rose takes Eunice under her wings and teaches her a trade, all the while showing her that love can be found in friendship - and in the nature around her.
Later, Eunice finds an erotic and passionate love with a man named Fox. Kushner says while they face tragedies of their own, Eunice has been educated in love enough to know how to weather these situations.
Kushner hopes Eunice's story and journey in love will appeal to "anyone who's been in love, anyone who wants to be in love, anyone who's been knocked around by love, anyone who's been enchanted by love."
"I think love is the strongest force in the universe and the most life-changing," she says.
Kushner lives in Madison, has received numerous awards, residencies, and honors, and is also author of the recent poetry collection, More Alive Than Lions Roaring. She’s also on the core faculty of the Assisi Institute in Madison and also does book group appearances. She will be appearing at the Wisconsin Book Festival on Oct. 19th.
She explains more about her writing process below.