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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent