By Amy Bloom
224 pages; Random House
It's no valentine. O contributor Amy Bloom's new collection of short fiction, Where the God of Love Hangs Out , is about real-life passion—greedy, misguided, rueful, hopeful, generous to a fault. "I am the worst person in the world," thinks Clare, remorseful over poaching William from the elegant, flawless Isabel—who is not only his wife but Clare's best friend—in "The Old Impossible," one of a quartet of stories about longing, deception, and loss. William is a man with an ample stomach and a capacious heart; his preference for tart and rough-edged Clare rings emotionally true. ("Darling, you are as clear and bright as vinegar," she imagines him telling her in "Compassion and Mercy," "but not everyone wants their pipes cleaned.") Just as authentic is the raw sensuality of grief in a second grouping of stories that begins with "Sleepwalking," about a recent widow who lives with her young son, Buster, and her sweetly feral 19-year-old stepson, Lionel ("Like his father, he only put his love out once, and God help you if you didn't take the hint"). There's nothing pretty about selfishness, or despair, or plain rotten judgment, and their destructive force is evident throughout this collection; but so is a gentle, self-mocking humor that lets forgiveness break through.