Monday, February 15, 2010

Bloom Cross-examines Love in Recent Collection

The stories in Amy Bloom’s collection Where the God of Love Hangs Out depict the accidents, evasions, and conclusions provoked by the wily deity of the title. Bloom captures the innumerable gradients of romance and base physicality in her engrossing illustrations of attraction. Her twelve stories contain moments of triumphal love as well as love that is mistaken, worn, and familial. Whether you recognize something from your past or see something you want for your future, Bloom ensures your interest with her sharp eye and rare prose.
Bloom begins most of her stories with precise declarative sentences. The reader is dropped into the lives of her characters with a thud; by that first sentence one is already captured by the voice. Although these are largely women’s stories, Bloom never reduces the opposite sex to a caricature. The pain, expectation, failure and fulfillment of men and women vibrate on equal planes in Bloom’s voice; the decibel may change but the depth remains constant.
In two of the four sections of her collection, Bloom traces the trajectory of two different couples. Both storylines have an element of the forbidden but Bloom does not write to scandalize. She isn’t interested in naughtiness, she is merely aware of the odd unions that can be produced circumstances both strained and comfortable. Her characters’ predicaments are deeply felt and the choices they make are not made lightly.
In the first quartet, one half of two couples combine to form a new pair. These fresh lovers are not young themselves and the affair that unfolds is laden with the experience of age, the weight of what this indiscretion means, and the sharp delight of desire. In Bloom’s second quartet, a young widow and her stepson arrive at a dreadful impasse while in the throes of their grief for the man they loved. The results of this encounter are not exactly tragic but staggering nonetheless. Neither coupling leads to predicted or similar conclusions. The author’s awareness of the unpredictability of conscience and emotions is reflected in the expansion of her stories. Mortality is a pervasive presence in Bloom’s works but deaths are not used as a ploy or a crutch.
The characters in this collection are entirely fallible and while each story in these two quartets triumphs in its own right, it is through following each trajectory to its conclusion that confirms Bloom’s expertise. Part of me didn’t want to see the fallout of those first indiscretions, but the instinct to move beyond the finite bounds of a single story and to push the reader into the life past the first lapse of judgment is a crucial decision on Bloom’s behalf that strengthens the effect of the stories.
Bloom’s characters are unabashedly sensual and she writes about sex with candor. At times her descriptions are explicit, but no matter the graphics of her prose the result is never squalid. She does not reduce corporeal pleasures to roses and flickering candlelight, but the intimate details she brings into focus are delivered in a straightforward tone, devoid of frills, rendering them curious, not sordid.
Ultimately the stories that had no further elaboration did not stick with me the way the others did. But Bloom’s sense of plot and character are remarkable and her descriptions and similes often had me grinning or grimacing in recognition no matter where they were situated.

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