Granta £10.99

Where the God of Love Hangs Out, By Amy Bloom

Cupid has to be patient in this understated collection

Explorations of love in unusual circumstances have become American psychotherapist Amy Bloom's literary trademark over the past two decades. In 2003, Bloom published a book called Normal, an anecdotal and observational study of transsexuals and transvestites, following up on an essay she had written for The New Yorker some years earlier.

Where the God of Love Hangs Out is her third collection of short stories. (She also has two novels to her name, including, most recently, the acclaimed Away.) For a collection that promises such a grand revelation in its title, it is beautifully understated. Love is not a victory march, as Leonard Cohen famously wrote; for Bloom, it is a series of tiny incidents, actions, even silences that crystallise over time into that rare human emotion.

This collection comprises several stand-alone pieces, but the backbone is two quartets of stories. The first is the story of William and Clare, the less-attractive partners in their respective marriages. One evening, while their spouses are sleeping upstairs, William, an overweight and irascible professor, and the prickly Clare move from cosy friendship to sex. Love in Bloom doesn't come quick: it germinates over years of attention and small deeds. Though William and Clare would never make romantic leads in usual circumstances, Bloom lets this odd romance, played out alongside gout, guilt and acid humour, grow so strong that when it is felled at the end of the quartet, it becomes a tragedy.

The second quartet is about Lionel and his stepmother Julia, a continuation of a story first printed in Bloom's 1993 volume Come to Me. Now it has been expanded into a mini-epic, with generations of children, lovers and neighbours all circling around the kitchen table of Julia. The story begins a generation back, when Julia's husband Lionel, a jazz saxophonist whom she has saved from alcoholism, dies. Together they have had a son, Buster, and Lionel also leaves a 19-year-old son, Lionel Jr, from a previous marriage, who has grown up with Julia as his mother.

A couple of nights after the funeral, Lionel Jr, like a sleepless child, climbs into bed with his stepmother. In the darkness, the acceptable, filial love he has shown her in return for her devotion to him – mending things, doing the washing-up, picking up little Buster from soccer practice – turns in grief to a sexual one. Julia, 20 years his senior, cannot quite turn this beautiful, devoted creature away that night but, come dawn, realises that their relationship will ruin him. To save Lionel Jr, she must hurt him and send him away. Lionel Jr exiles himself in Paris, where he works as a maritime lawyer, for more than a decade.

This could be a story about the illicit drama of incest, but Bloom steers it away from such an easy target. Instead, it is about a woman who puts a mother's love above her own feelings. But how much she has buried is revealed when Lionel Jr, now a grown man, is persuaded back to the family table many years later. Over the washing of the dishes, Lionel tells Julia that he has done what she wished: grown apart from her, and become his own man. "We would never be lovers now," he says, at which Julia suddenly finds herself thinking that "all that French polish is not worth much if he cannot figure out a nicer way to say he no longer desires her".

Bloom's profession is often cited in reviews of her work as the reason why her dissection of character is so keen, but it is hardly an answer to what makes her so extraordinary. After all, Chekhov, the master of psychologically intense short stories, wrote years before Freud had bought his first shrink's couch. This is where Normal comes in. Though her characters in Where the God of Love Hangs Out are notionally straight, Amy Bloom doesn't write about "heteronormative" relationships, where a handsome man and beautiful woman fall into each other's arms and produce children who will replicate this ideal model. Bloom's characters are the ones left on the cutting-room floor. They don't make the grade of a traditional love story, and they know it. How, then, can Julia understand the conflict of maternal and romantic love for her stepson, or Clare understand hers for a man who so let himself go? There is not the heteronormative model for them to steady themselves against, nor a ready romantic language. Bloom slowly builds up these relationships through the tokens of love – the making of lunch, the sending of a letter once a month, persistent and steady.

So where does the God of Love hang out when not on official duties? If Bloom's stories are to be believed, he is often lounging with a glass of bourbon, making chitchat, before gently prodding his targets with his arrow.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution