Amy Bloom faces off with taboo topics in her short stories, those unwanted subjects rarely overheard on the bus or at a party. A transgendered child, a stillbirth, a son's indiscretion with his stepmother pose benign and mysterious in her opening paragraphs. And no matter how long a veteran of Bloom's stories (her previous collections are Love Invents Us and Come to Me), the reader still arrives late for the movie, stumbles into his seat in the dark and looks up to find characters and activity about which he knows absolutely nothing.
Her stories are not quite snapshots and not quite epiphanies, either of which would be easier to process. They start too late in the action for an establishing "shot," finish before the expected "end," and that disorientation becomes seductive. The plots are often a maze that ends abruptly, and when the conversation finishes, her characters remain strangers, which makes it easier to like and accept them.
In the title story, a mother must rise above her dashed expectations and accept a son when her daughter decides to have a sex-change operation. "Night Vision" is about a man who sleeps with his stepmother the day after his father's funeral, and lives with this intimate knowledge for decades until he can face her again.
"Stars at Elbow and Foot" is one of the most enigmatic stories in the book. After a woman's baby is stillborn, she slips into a deep depression until she volunteers to work with disabled children at a local hospital. On the first day, she impulsively decides to adopt the most repulsive and disliked child, against her husband's wishes. The story ends with her planning for a wheelchair ramp and buying medical equipment. There are no clues as to what might happen when the child and the husband encounter each other.
Bloom, a practicing psychotherapist, might be expected to over-analyze as a storyteller. Instead, she uses metaphors with an almost arrogant certainty, and has the confidence to leave so much silence in her stories that the reader himself can render that space claustrophobic.
Deanna Larson writes from Nashville.