Amy Bloom’s stories tear through my heart. I am weak and tired, I have been for three years, and the tiny walls I have built to keep myself in (and the world out) in the meantime wash away like they were nothing, like they were made of spit and lint when I read her stories. My tears start and stop and I cry for the people I love, and have loved and everything we keep from echo other and every thing we give away to keep loving each other. I cry instead of making an unfortunate phone call. I cry instead of screaming.
I first read Bloom’s work in a nonfiction essay about in-laws in Topic Magazine. [Full disclosure: I am currently a web editor for the online edition of this fantastic mag. Go, get a free login, and enjoy. Bloom’s essay is in Topic 7: Family. The Family issue was what made me want to work with them. I admired a place that would find and publish such a piece, one so unflinchingly angry and yet so beautiful.] When I finally decided to spend the piddly amount of money on her novel Love Invents Us, I thought I was going to get a smartish, bubbly read. What I got instead was a love story that rubbed me raw with terrible realness, nit in the plot machinations so much, but in the moves of the characters, what they do when doors open and close in their path.
Then I had to read Come to Me and then A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. Yes, love, love, love—all Bloom’s stories are about love and none are sweet. She has an amazing grasp of what real love is- that it hurts sometimes and that it changes over days and years and moments. Her characters force themselves to forgive and trust and get angry, and are only slightly more articulate about it than the average person who has felt deeply for another person. No one is excluded from Bloom’s world of love- not brothers and sons, lovers and mothers, not the undeserving and the wicked. She manages to capture passion without drama, and makes it seem like an elementary writer’s trick.
We meet Julia, Lionel Jr., Buster and Ruth in Come to Me for a first round of fucked-up families and good intentions in “Sleepwalking.” They come back in ABMCSHMILY, older, maybe wiser, but still straining against family bonds, both external and ones they created, on purpose and by accident. I liked the older story better, where the possibilities for the children Lionel Jr. and Buster seemed wide open, but the newer stories satisfied me like a decent movie sequel—Bloom is riffing on an old theme, and drops the ball a few times, but seeing how it all turned out makes her occasional stumbling in tone and voice worth it.
I would not suggest reading these three too close together. The characters will get jumbled and the endings will blur together. You will miss the rough edges of each protagonist, as they should be experienced, singularly, like running a thumb over a pocket-sized rock, found on that lasting camping trip or pulled from the rubble of a destroyed place. Read with caution and consider the love in your life.
***Edited to add: FYI: not all her writing in these novels is spectacular, but she is well worth checking out if you're thinking about love.