Amy Bloom's Where the God of Love Hangs Out clearly aims to be a series of meditations on unusual instances of love. It examines the bearers of that love, their relationships to each other and to small but widely varying peripheral casts, and does its best to make no judgments, to present them to us and make way for our own assessment. As a treatment of the subject of love in all its agony and splendor etc., the stories are an impressive success. But as a series of engrossing and moving tales, they are far less so.
The book is divided into two primary sequences of stories chronicling two rather unusual couples, punctuated by several shorter stand-alone pieces. Characters are often well developed and detailed, and the manifestations of love are, of course, interesting and compelling in their own way. But where Bloom falls short is in her efforts to make them likable, to draw us in and force us to invest ourselves in their troubles and triumphs.
The first sequence follows William and Clare, aging extramarital lovers whose respective spouses are more suited for each other than for them. The second follows Lionel and Julia, a stepmother/stepson pair brought together by a connection that I never entirely bought into. These relationships are ambitious in scope, and occasionally they do ring true enough to move the reader, but a great deal of time is spent on circumstances surrounding the love, so that almost no attention is paid to the love itself. The characters that result are often hollow and bare, in spite of the careful effort on the part of the author to flesh them out and make them come alive for us.
There are a handful of moments in the collection that reached me, the most powerful of which occurred in the final lines of the independent story "Between Here and Here." But for the most part the men and women that populate this book are busy making each other and themselves miserable, which is only interesting to a point. And by far the greatest misstep Bloom makes is to rely too much on the presence, immediate or not, of death in her stories--the device is so frequent as to become distracting.
Stylistically, the experience is a joy; Bloom's words are well-chosen and to the point. But for those looking for more than a strictly literary read (and by that I mean a warmer, chewier take on traditional romantic love), this is an overwhelmingly bittersweet, if not downright unhappy, book that deals with its subject in a detached and intellectual manner, leaving it feeling more than a little sterile. This is not to say that it can't be a fun or rewarding read, but don't let the title fool you: wherever the God of Love hangs out, it's not here.