Much to my surprise it seems to have turned into short story week here. Unusually for me, I came to Amy Bloom’s writing through her short fiction. It was back in the ’90s and I was a bookseller at the time. When I was shown her first volume a great deal was made of her work as a psychotherapist which intrigued me. I read all three collections when they were published and was delighted by her writing, even more so when her novels appeared, one of which – Lucky Us – I’ve reviewed on this blog. Rowing to Eden is a complete collection of her short stories and when I opened it I realised I’d read the lot but with writing as good as Bloom’s, who cares? It’s more than worth a second visit.
For readers who already know her work this collection comprises stories first published in Come to Me, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You and Where the God of Love Hangs Out. There are twenty-nine in all, some subject to a little editorial re-ordering from the sequence in which they first appeared. A small selection will give readers unfamiliar with these beautifully crafted little gems a flavour of what to expect. In ‘Love is Not a Pie’ a woman decides to break off her impending marriage when listening to her mother’s eulogy, realising that her fiancé could never live up to her mother’s generous interpretation of love. ‘Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines’ sees a young voluptuous girl, subject to neglect and criticism from her mother, model furs while naked for an elderly man. In ‘Semper Fidelis’ a young woman waits for her sick, elderly, still beloved husband to die, sharing her sexual fantasies with him. ‘Psychoanalysis Changed My Life’ has an ageing analyst give her patient advice about her appearance rather than listening to yet another recitation of dreams, perhaps with an ulterior motive in mind. Grief changes the relationship between a mother and her stepson irrevocably in the linked ‘Lionel and Julia’ sequence. Bloom’s stories are about the things that make us human – love, desire, family, ageing, grief and identity – all explored throughout this collection with admirable acuity.
Bloom’s supreme skill lies in her ability to portray human foibles and traits with a clear-eyed empathy. The many grey areas of desire are laid bare. Love and its sometimes unorthodox forms is a frequent theme. Bloom cleverly confounds expectations, in one instance turning what could have become a tale of obsession into the start of something that might become love. Her writing is beautifully nuanced, the unsaid often conveying as much as what appears on the page, sometimes more. All this – subtlety, insight and an occasionally acerbic humour – is wrapped up in polished prose which slips seamlessly from one point of view to another. Three sets of these stories are closely interlinked, offering more for those of us who like our fiction longer to get our teeth into but perhaps that is to underrate Bloom’s standalone work: these are short stories for novel readers – each one complete unto itself.