BOOK REVIEW / Analysis for beginners: Come to me by Amy Bloom, Macmillan pounds 8.99

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The Independent Culture
BEREAVEMENT, mental breakdown and sexual non-conformity are the deep waters into which Amy Bloom plunges in her first book - though causing scarcely a ripple in the smooth narrative surface. It is often a jolt to realise what enormities the plausible, sympathetic characters in her stories are actually up to: that nice bereaved widow in 'Sleepwalking' suddenly making love with her stepson; the psychotic patient in 'Silver Water' whose devoted mother and sister let her die from a self-administered overdose.

When the daughter in 'Love is not a Pie' discovers that her father and a family friend have shared her mother's sexual attentions with

equanimity for years, it is not the triangle itself that shocks so much as the cool tolerance of everyone concerned. The mother unflappably explains about such menages: 'People think it can't be that way but it can. You just have to find the right people.'

Amy Bloom is a practising psychotherapist and her raw material carries clinical credibility, though as a writer she is more intrigued by alternative therapies. There are half a dozen psychiatrists in the 12 stories, but there is also an obstetrician in shining armour, a transvestite hairdresser who restores a woman's ego and a middle- aged furrier who nurtures an ugly adolescent duckling into a swan. Bloom's advice seems to be: whatever it takes to scrape through life, do it - grand gesture or compromise, sex or shopping.

It is an engagingly freewheeling prescription, to which the final story in the collection, 'Psychoanalysis Changed My Life', provides an apt punchline. One woman shrink is being psychoanalysed by another, much older one, who not only recommends an excellent masseuse and a hair colourist, but manages a deft piece of match- making between her own nice Jewish son and her patient - romance being, even analysts must acknowledge, a time-honoured antidote to

depression.

Unafraid of a dollop of schmaltz, Amy Bloom holds up her survivors for our approval, but she doesn't shy away from real pain either. We witness several breakdowns from unflinchingly intimate vantage points within the family circle, and that booby-trapped territory, bereavement, is examined with special attention.

Losing one's grip, Bloom demonstrates, is not that remarkable; the trick lies in standing by with the safety nets.

(Photograph omitted)

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