Book Quote:

“When the subject came up, William and Claire said nice things about the people they used to be married to.”

Book Review:

Review by Maggie Hill (JUN 26, 2010)

This god of love is fully, fallibly human. Amy Bloom’s love is quixotic, yet consistent; borne of emotion, yet calculated; growing ever strong through time, yet destined to peter out. Nobody has it made; nobody has pulled it all together; nobody is sure of anything, except maybe how unsure they are.

In these linked stories, it is not necessarily a good thing to love someone. Love is messy, and will mess you up. It might not even be worth it. Yet, it may be your destiny.

In the first group of stories – about Claire and William – a long-term friendship between married couples is the breeding ground for an affair between two of them. But even using the word “affair” is too theatrical and dramatic for the relationship between these two spouses. If it was romantic, maybe it wouldn’t be so pathetic. The author, with her enormous gift for setting up a scene, has the husband of one, and the wife of another, watching CNN about the airstrikes in Afghanistan. Their respective spouses have already turned in for the night. Sitting in the living room in old robes and geriatric slippers, somehow leads them into a sexual encounter. How this leads to sex cannot be underplayed, or summarized:

“Our two plain gold wedding bands twinkled in the light of the TV screen. He touched my breast through my bathrobe and my pajamas – I had dressed for watching TV with William as if for bundling – for a very long time. His touch, left forefinger on left nipple, through wool and flannel, should have been numbing in its dreamy repetition, but it was not; it captured my whole body’s attention.”

And so begins the story of William and Claire, as they inhabit the first group of stories in this collection. We peek at these two “lovers” through the next story – he with his excess-instigated illnesses (he’s apparently gargantuan, he suffers from gout, he is in the early stages of arthritis), she’s on her way to visit him, packing deli supplies. These folks are professors and English gentlemen. They have children, professions, intact marriages. What pushes them together, Amy Bloom seems to be asking through her writing? How can this big-bellied, huffing and puffing guy be so compelling to Claire, whose own husband is fit, fun, fresh? How does this make sense, and wait, Amy! I’m not satisfied by this turn of events……even though I believe it right down to my core.

The final story in this segment opens with these two lovers married. They’ve both divorced their heretofore unknowing spouses, facing the grief and frustration of their older children. This wasn’t a whimsical decision – using Claire’s point of view, the reader is filled in on the whole drama through a combination of flashback and hindsight, into the apparently natural evolution of their pairing. As readers, we can have all sorts of opinions. I wondered what I knew of love that I questioned why it was so important that these middle-aged, settled, even content folks felt it was necessary to shake things up. I still wonder. However, for all that I scratch my head, it never rings untrue. I may not want to hang out with these folks, but I believe they are flesh and blood.

In the next group of stories – Lionel and Julia – Ms. Bloom goes right for the jugular. She wants us to live with, and understand, how a widow takes to bed her grieving stepson, a teenager who she has cared for since his toddlerhood. Julia is neither lecherous, nor a monster – she is, in fact, organized, intelligent, loyal, and a wonderful mother to her own toddler. Julia is a basically a humane and loving woman. Whose husband has just died. Who is palpably grieving, walking in a kind of netherworld, deeply dislocated. When her also-grieving stepson comes in to her bedroom to say goodnight to her, they end up making love.

“He sat on the bed and plucked at my blanket, and I could smell the beer and the sweat coming off him. I sat up so we could talk, and he threw his arms around me like a drowning man…..and then he kissed me and my brain stopped. I shut my eyes.” The next ten paragraphs take the reader through the coupling, from start to finish.

This night will color the rest of Lionel’s life, as it will certainly color Julia’s. It will inform the next three stories. Nobody – least of all the reader – will come to a satisfactory understanding of what happened. If you have a son, and you are a mother, you cannot imagine that even a truckload of scotch could ever bring you to this drowning place. If you hope to have generosity of understanding and leave judgment behind in your life, this story will test your mettle.

Perhaps the author wanted to explore the idea. Perhaps the author wanted to see how things would turn out, should something as inviolate as this happen to a basically good, ordinary woman. Maybe Amy Bloom wants to know, How do you proceed, honestly and with true examination, with the rest of your life when you’ve participated in a bit of grotesquerie? She could very well be asking how the bearded lady, the man who swallows fire, and the lady & the tiger conduct their lives on a day-to-day basis.

I admire this collection. Amy Bloom uses beautiful, clean, spare language to tell a story. The pages breathe with deft, useful, communicative narration. As in her novel, Away, which took my breath away, these stories merely ask for your kind attention to the matter at hand. The writer is at work, and she’s got this covered. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen and see with your very own eyes.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 25 readers
PUBLISHER: Random House; First Edition edition (January 12, 2010)
REVIEWER: Maggie Hill
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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June 26, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Posted in: Short Stories

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