Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Am I Missing Something?


Where the God of Love Hangs Out
by Amy Bloom (short stories)

OK, maybe it's just me. I was intrigued by the title of this short story collection, and was very moved by Amy Bloom's novel Away a couple of years ago. So I was very eager to read these, and even suggested them for a book club at my church. That may be the last time I make a suggestion without having read the book first. These are a big disappointment. What I remember about Away is the clear message that life is difficult, and there is a lot of pain and sorrow, but there are also people through whom love is communicated and moments where grace is evident. Those people and those moments give us the strength to endure the pain that eventually comes our way. Where the God of Love Hangs Out has all the darkness with very little of the light.

In a recent interview, Amy Bloom discusses how most writers have a certain theme or subject that finds its way into all of their work. "Whether I chose it or not," she said, "my subject is love." Sadly, I just did not find much love present in these short stories. Bloom's skill at choosing words and constructing sentences is still evident in this collection, but many of the characters behave like fools. There are four interconnected stories about two people named William and Clare. Both married to other people, they are "best friends" who eventually begin an affair that goes on and off for years. In the end, they leave their respective spouses and marry each other. I suppose there is a certain sweetness to them living out their final days together and moving beyond secrecy and deception, but frankly it was hard for me to get past the adultery and their seeming lack of concern for the commitments they had originally made. Plus the two characters are just quite unappealing. As much as I disapprove of adultery in principle, I do think it would be possible to construct a story where the reader at least can understand what has driven the characters to such an act, and where we can sympathize with the characters and even root for them. Bloom has failed to do this.

One of the short stories (unrelated to William and Clare) titled Between Here and Here that was probably my favorite of the collection. It was about a woman who has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic father, who was verbally (and occasionally physically) abusive during all the years she was growing up. In his final years, as his physical and mental health deteriorates, she manages to find compassion for him in his vulnerability. Although he never acknowledges his past behavior (let alone apologize for it), he does seem to develop an appreciation for his daughter. Almost in spite of herself, Allison and her dad come to an uneasy truce. Sometimes an uneasy truce is the best we can hope for.

There is another set of connected stories about a musical, cosmopolitan, interracial family that I was able to enjoy more than the saga of William and Clare. There were some likable characters, and a few touching scenarios. However, much of the energy of the storyline was fueled by sexual tension between a young man and his stepmother. I suppose things like that happen in "real life," but it just left a sour taste in my mouth. Several of the other stories have characters who engage in adultery seemingly without conscience or compunction. Others do equally reprehensible things, and fail to take responsibility for their choices. In most of the stories, I really could not find a God of love hanging out anywhere. It seemed more like the gods of hedonism, self-gratification, and anything goes. Blech.

Reverent Reader

P.S. I'm sorry for the long gap between posts. Our family was caught in the massive blizzard that hammered the east coast starting on February 5. We were without Internet for a week, and are just now resuming some semblance of normal life. BUT, I got a lot of reading done during the storm, so lots of posts will be coming. YAY!!

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