Nine uncollected stories plus three that appeared in earlier collections are interestingly arranged and recombined in this latest from the Manhattan psychotherapist and versatile author (Away, 2008, etc.).
The first four chronicle the adulterous relationship, then the sad late-life marriage of 50-somethings Clare and William, who find amorous moments together during shared vacations and visits to and with each other’s unsuspecting spouses. Bloom’s plainspoken, witty prose is displayed to fine effect in unglamorous snapshot revelations of self-indulgent, heart-attack-waiting-to-happen William and weary, unillusioned Clare (who sardonically asks herself, “What has it ever been between them but the rubbing of two broken wings?”). Four other interrelated stories span years of familial and less conventional love between Julia, a music journalist who becomes a black jazz musician’s third wife, then his widow, and his son and namesake Lionel, a biracial heartthrob who is drawn much too closely into intimacy with his grieving stepmother. Except for the last of these four, in which Lionel is both further injured and paradoxically healed by his weakness and guilt, this is an original and moving dramatization of the complex burdens of togetherness and independence, soaring ambition and muted resignation. The remaining unrelated stories—which seem to belong in another book—are a mixed bag. “Permafrost” suggestively links a hospital social worker’s compassionate identification with a young girl’s sufferings to the former’s lifelong fascination with the historic Shackleton Arctic expedition. “Between here and here” and “By-and-By” deal somewhat melodramatically with family-related traumas. But in the wry title story, stoic survival is persuasively incarnated in a saturnine widower who takes botched relationships, failing bodily functions, even “women OD’ing on coke in front of their children” phlegmatically in stride.
Not Bloom at her very best, but impressive enough confirmation of this clever writer’s ability to challenge the way we see ourselves and to show us as we are.