Amy Bloom's novel. Away, was one of my favorite books in 2008. While in Michigan for my mom's memorial in June, I stopped in at Shaman Drum Bookstore in Ann Arbor (which sadly closed its doors on June 30) and picked up Love Invents Us, Bloom's first novel. I had been slogging through Sara Water's lugubrious The Little Stranger (which I will review next), but once I read the first few pages of Amy Bloom's novel, I fell again under her spell.
I read all through lunch at Ann Arbor's Zingerman's Roadhouse (they serve 6 varieties of macaroni and cheese; I had the spinach and pancetta), I read while waiting to board my plane home at Detroit Metro, I read through the 5 hour flight and then in bed that night, when I finished this astonishing book.
The story opens thus:
"I wasn't surprised to find myself in the back of Mr Klein's store, wearing only my undershirt and panties, surrounded by sable.
'Sable is right for you, Lizbet,' Mr Klein said, draping a shawl-collared jacket over me. 'Perfect for your skin and your eyes. A million times a day the boys must tell you. Such skin' "
A bit alarmed that I might have stumbled into some modern day Lolita but hopelessly captured, I read on. Not Lolita, but erotic while heartbreaking, as Elizabeth, the pudgy, lonely middle-grade daughter of an interior decorator and a lawyer, searches for love and thereby clues to who she might be.
She falls in love with Mr Klein, then a piano teacher, her high school English teacher, and finally an African American basketball player from her high school team.
It is not that Elizabeth does not come to harm. She does and she has no one but herself to fall back on. But, as the title states, her loves do tell her who she is. She grows into a strong unique individual. Still lonely, still off the beaten path of normality, but fiercely the champion of those she loves, Elizabeth is a character only Amy Bloom could have created.
Love, like life, is dangerous, illuminating, messy and even humorous. While reading Amy Bloom's book, I got a new look at my own loves and how they have formed me.
(Both books by Amy Bloom are available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)