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Originally published Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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Book review

"Where the God of Love Hangs Out": Amy Bloom on love and its consequences

A review of Amy Bloom's new story collection, "Where the God of Love Hangs Out," presents several finely drawn stories, many linked, which focus on friends and family members who live with the consequences of their decisions over decades.

Special to The Seattle Times

"Where the God of Love Hangs Out"

by Amy Bloom

Random House, 201 pp., $25

A well-crafted short story is like a perfect hors d'oeuvre: It leaves you wanting more, but knowing that just a taste is enough. In "Where the God of Love Hangs Out," author Amy Bloom (whose last work was the 2007 novel "Away") presents both pre-dinner noshes and more substantial fare. Some of the stories in this brief, fine collection stand alone, while others are part of a linked set, meant to be read together and adding up to a small novella in which years pass between chapters.

Bloom's story "Sleepwalking," published in her 1993 story collection "Come to Me," is reprinted here as the first in the book's centerpiece, a series of four linked stories. In it, a grieving young widow, Julia, and her 19-year-old stepson fall into bed together. Knowing it's a mistake, she packs his suitcase to send him away, pondering the advice she was once given as a lifeguard: that sometimes "you have to knock the person out to bring him in to shore."

In the three subsequent stories, we watch the characters grow and change over the next two decades, as the tossed pebble of that "one shameful, gold-rimmed night together" makes ripples felt long afterward. Bloom's writing is calm and slightly distant, as if we're watching these people from across the room but can nonetheless read their minds. Her narrator sees their bad decisions, but does not judge; these people, like all of us, are works in progress.

The Julia stories focus on family — numerous children flit through the narrative, growing up before our eyes — as do the four linked stories that open the collection. William and Clare are two middle-aged academics, in love with each other but married to other people and repeatedly deciding that their passion for each other is "nothing more than some odd summer lightning that would pass as soon as the season changed." Years pass, and we see glimpses of how their behavior affects their spouses and children, but we also see that their love is real — the god of love has, however inconveniently, chosen them.

In "Between Here and Here," a grown daughter copes with her once-abusive father, now alone and seemingly changed. Bloom shows us, without ever having to spell it out, the daughter's heart wondering if it could open toward him again. And, in the searing "By and By" — a small masterpiece not even 10 pages long — a young woman tries to go on after the murder of her best friend and roommate, Anne. She tries to comfort herself with memories that etch portraits for the reader: spray painting their third-hand furniture gold and giving parties by candlelight; how Anne had "argued and persuaded me out of cheap shoes and generic toilet paper and my mother's winter coat"; how they had, in those carefree post-college years, grown up and become women together. This, too, is territory of the heart, where Bloom so easily treads: love lost and love found, in unexpected places.

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