Bloom, Amy 1953–
Bloom, Amy 1953–
PERSONAL: Born June 18, 1953, in New York, NY; daughter of Murray (a journalist and author) and Sydelle (a writer, teacher, and group therapist) Bloom; married Donald Moon (a professor), August 21, 1977; children: Alexander (stepson), Caitlin, Sarah. Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., 1975; Smith College, M.S.W., 1978.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Phyllis Wender, Rosenstone/Wender, 38 East 29th St., New York, NY 10016.
CAREER: In private practice of psychotherapy, Middle-town, CT, 1981–; writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination, 1993, for Come to Me; O. Henry Award, 1994, for story "Semper Fidelis"; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2000, for A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.
Come to Me (short stories), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Love Invents Us (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1996.
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (short stories), Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude (nonfiction), Random House, 2002.
Work represented in anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, 1991, edited by Alice Adams, Hough-ton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1991; Best American Short Stories, 1992, edited by Robert Stone and Katrina Kenison, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1992; Here Lies My Heart: Essays on Why We Marry, Why We Don't, and What We Find There, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1999; Best American Short Stories, 2000, edited by E.L. Doctorow, 2000; and The Secret Self: A Century of Short Stories by Women. Contributor of columns and articles to periodicals, including New Yorker, Antaeus, Story, Mirabella, Self, Vogue, and Atlantic.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Another collection of stories.
SIDELIGHTS: Amy Bloom demonstrates her knowledge of the human condition in stories and novels that celebrate "the human need to connect, no matter how awkwardly, how painfully, or how late," commented Susan Balee in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A practicing psychotherapist who began writing short stories in her spare time, Bloom creates characters who must face life's most difficult moments—ill health, the death of a spouse, lover, or child, the working-through of family trauma. As Dottie Enrico put it in USA Today, "One gets the sense that Bloom embraces life's disappointments and imperfections and does her best, through her writing, to create a world in which people prevail over those disappointments with honesty and acceptance." Consistently praised for the precision and verisimilitude of her observations, Bloom displays "a compelling emotional intelligence at work," according to John Martin in the Bloomsbury Review. Austin Chronicle con-tributor Marion Winik wrote: "Her easygoing empathy for … situations and the characters who inhabit them make her stories an epiphany to read—and her unfailing wit makes them a pleasure."
Bloom received a National Book Award nomination for her first book, Come to Me, a collection of twelve short stories. In Come to Me she delves into the emotional states and mental illnesses of her characters, ranging from Rose, a schizophrenic woman whose family tries to come to terms with her illness in "Silver Water," to an adulterous pianist whose story is related in "The Sight of You." "Although her stories may be full of tragic implications, Ms. Bloom's characters possess extraordinary dignity that lifts them beyond pity," Barbara Kaplan Lane noted in the New York Times. "Those whom circumstances might otherwise define as victims or villains reveal heroic potential in the author's skillful, empathic hands." "What Bloom manages to do in story after story is vary her voice … alternate the point of view, change the cadence," declared Ruth Coughlin in the Detroit News. "But throughout—always, always—she is able to maintain an extraordinarily high level of emotion and a piercingly sharp intelligence." According to New York Times Book Review contributor Anne Whitehouse, Bloom "has created engaging, candid and unorthodox characters, and has vividly revealed their inner lives." Coughlin called Come to Me "a remarkable collection, an exhilarating display of a talent both large and luminous." Elizabeth Benedict, reviewing the collection in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, concluded that Come to Me "is so rich, moving and gracefully written, it's hard to believe [Bloom] hasn't been doing this all her life."
Bloom's first novel, Love Invents Us, emerged in part from a story that appeared in the collection Come to Me. The longer fictional format enabled the author to develop her characters in greater detail and explore their lives over a longer span of time, without losing what Donna Seaman described in the Chicago Tribune as "her arresting economy and pointed poignancy." In the novel, the protagonist Elizabeth Taube tells her story in her own words, the story of an unattractive, awkward child searching for love and affection long denied. Her urban Jewish parents are cold and distant, her classmates hostile and cruel. "To compensate for this agonizing combination of indifference and malice," wrote Gary Krist in the Washington Post Book World, "Elizabeth is forced to find warmth wherever she can." Not surprisingly, the lonely child does not always make the wisest choices.
Among Elizabeth's discoveries is Mr. Klein, the furrier from the story "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines," who encourages her to model his furs in her underwear in the back room of his shop and gives Elizabeth the esteem-building praise and warmth that was missing from her life. Another discovery is Mrs. Hill, an elderly, disabled member of a black church who engages Elizabeth's services as a companion and caretaker, and whose genuine interest in the young woman provides a parent-substitute that inspires Elizabeth's "loyalty unto death," as Winik commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. A more "unhealthy" discovery, according to Krist, is English teacher Max Stone, "a pitiful character, a married father tortured by his scandalous desire for a girl who could be his daughter."
These encounters prepare Elizabeth for her own true love, who turns out to be a black high school basketball player. With Huddie Lester, Krist wrote, "Elizabeth gets her first glimpse of a passion unmuddied by complexities and shame, and it's in these scenes that Love Invents Us truly comes into its own." Seaman commented: "Elizabeth narrates … in a voice as notable for its matter-of-factness in the face of trauma as for its nimble wit, a style that makes each complex scene shimmer."
If the first part of the novel represents discovery, then the second acknowledges loss. Huddie's father exiles him to Alabama, and Mrs. Hill dies. Max, who has become less a lover and more a friend, is afflicted by a series of tragedies that ruin his ability to proffer the love that Elizabeth continues to seek. Huddie's long-delayed return proves anticlimactic. As Winik reported, "it seems the characters are helpless against the assaults of destiny." The final part of the book suggests reconciliation. Winik maintained that "things are turning out … not perfectly, but hopefully, with … the suggestion, if not the assurance, of a happy ending."
Critics found much to praise in Bloom's first novel. Winik wrote: "It is a quiet book … you almost don't notice how brave it is." Seaman concluded: "Bloom's precise, sensual and heartbreaking tale reminds us that the most exquisite of pleasures can be wedded to the most searing of sorrows" and "we are both scarred and strengthened by the ordeal." Krist summarized: "Although her book is not flawless … its intelligence and passion never flag." The reviewer concluded that Bloom has shown her readers "that while love may take many different and surprising forms, there's never enough of it to go around."
Death looms large in many of the stories collected in A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, as Bloom's protagonists suffer from breast cancer, Parkinson's dis-ease, or the loss of their children. Santa Monica Mirror correspondent Kate Cooney deemed the work "a catalog of characters in the midst of the hard stuff of life." Cooney added: "We don't often think about paradise as a destination we have to row toward but Bloom shows us time and again that the pleasure and pain of life are intrinsically intertwined." Bloom details her characters' behavior in the face of life-altering experiences, noting the tendency to behave badly and then feel guilty in response to dire circumstance. "Exotic intimacies color the sharply wrought stories in Amy Bloom's fine new collection. And they reveal themselves hauntingly as these tales unfold," stated Janet Maslin in the New York Times. "In a set of stories whose characters find themselves bridging various chasms—medical, sexual, racial—and casually breaking assorted taboos, Ms. Bloom writes warmly and astutely, with arresting precision, about the various adjustments that they make." Martin observed: "This is not a brand of storytelling easily imitated or duplicated. It requires a writer of sure abilities and deep intuition." In an online review for NewCityNet, Shelly Ridenour concluded: "These stories are the backbone of modern, nontraditional family life: families broken and disjointed and pieced together, proving that blood may be thicker than water, but it's still not as strong as hope—or blind determination. Truly, a work of real literary entertainment."
Bloom grew up in Long Island, New York, and spent a great deal of her time in her local library. After earning a degree in government and theater, she received her master's degree in social work and went into private practice. "I became a therapist because I am not judgmental," Bloom explained to Lane. "People have always liked to tell me their stories. Even when I was seventeen, taking the Long Island Railroad to a summer job, the conductor sat down to tell me his life story." Developing her skills as a listener and interviewer through her career, Bloom has also channeled it into her writing, resulting in the book Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude. In this nonfiction work, based on interviews, she "introduces members of three very different groups who challenge common definitions of gender and sexuality," as noted by Ina Rimpau in Library Journal. Specifically, Bloom presents the reader with female-to-male transsexuals, heterosexual crossdressers, and the inter-sexed. This last category, as described by Andrea Dworkin in New Statesman and Society, are people who are "sometimes called hermaphrodites, whose genitalia and reproductive organs are configured at birth in a variety of atypical ways." In the book, readers meet a variety of sexually ambiguous men and women, such as cross-dressing cops and a seemingly normal middle-class guy with an unusual genital abnormality that places him far out of the sexual mainstream. Bloom also pays close attention not only to those whose sexuality is considered abnormal by many but also to their families, including a mother who used her life savings to help her daughter make the transition from a girl to boy.
Commenting on Bloom's encounters with transsexuals, Julia M. Klein wrote in the Nation that, "In meeting these postoperative transsexuals, Bloom keeps gauging her own reactions, just as the reader might: Do they look male? Act male? Is the chemistry she feels the same as she'd feel with other men? What do their parents and their romantic partners say about them?" A Publishers Weekly contributor also commented that Bloom is very interested in why she and others struggle with "gender and sexual experiences we do not share." The reviewer added, "Fascinating without being prurient, detailed without being overly scientific, the book opens new ways of viewing not only gender but our own inability to accept difference." Writing in Booklist, Donna Seaman commented, "Beautifully done, Bloom's fascinating and enlightening disquisition greatly extends our perception of humanness."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Austin Chronicle, August 25, 2000, Marion Winik, "A Blind Man Can See What a Good Writer Amy Bloom Is."
Belles Lettres, winter, 1993, p. 28.
Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 2000, John Martin, review of A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, p. 23.
Booklist, December 15, 1996, p. 708; September 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Cross-Dressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude, p. 25.
Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Love Invents Us, p. 14.
Detroit News, August 4, 1993, Ruth Coughlin, review of Come to Me, p. 3F.
Harper's Bazaar, January, 1997, p. 54.
Hudson Review, winter, 1994, pp. 777-771.
Library Journal, January, 1994, p. 200; December, 1996, p. 141; August, 2002, Ina Rimpau, review of Normal, p. 123.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 13, 1993, Elizabeth Benedict, review of Come to Me, pp. 3, 12; January 12, 1997, p. 8.
Nation, December 2, 2002, Julia M. Klein, review of Normal, p. 33.
New Statesman and Society, April 15, 1994, p. 38; September 22, 2003, Andrea Dworkin, review of Normal, p. 53.
New York Times, June 20, 1993, Barbara Kaplan Lane, "A Therapist-Author Shuns the Limelight," section CN, p. 14; August 16, 1993, p. C18; July 24, 2000, Janet Maslin, "How Do I Love Thee? Count the Unusual Ways."
New York Times Book Review, July 18, 1993, p. 16; January 19, 1997, p. 23; September 10, 2000, Joan Smith, "Role Reversals," p. 24.
People, February 24, 1997, p. 32.
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2000, Susan Balee, review of A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.
Publishers Weekly, June 5, 2000, review of A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, p. 69; July 1, 2002, review of Normal, p. 64.
Santa Monica Mirror, September 13-19, 2000, Kate Cooney, "The Life Stories of Amy Bloom."
Studies in Short Fiction, fall, 1994, p. 694.
USA Today, September 8, 2000, Dottie Enrico, "'Blind Man' Opens Eyes to Female Psyche."
U.S. News and World Report, January 27, 1997, p. 69.
Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1993, p. 10.
Washington Post Book World, February 23, 1997, Gary Krist, review of Love Invents Us, p. 3.
NewCityNet, http://www.weeklywire.com/ (August 8, 2000), Shelly Ridenour, "'Blind' Leading."
New York Post Online, http://www.nypost.com/ (November 7, 2000), Nan Goldberg, review of A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.