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"A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You" by Amy Bloom

By Shelly Ridenour

AUGUST 7, 2000: 

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom (Random House), $22.95, 163 pages

In the midst of a bout with insomnia? There is no better way to pass the night alone than with Amy Bloom's new collection of short stories, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You"--assuming you can stomach the unfairness of fleeting beauty and aren't hungry for a neat little happy ending.

Bloom, whose stunning debut, "Come to Me," was a National Book Award finalist in 1993, has a plain touch necessary for dealing with biological travesties without weighing them down even more with wet sympathy. Characters deal with cancers, transgender confusion, miscarriage and Parkinson's disease with reality, not halo-topped nobility; there is brittleness and rash judgement, and there is selfishness. Tucked in bed after a round of chemo, breast cancer patient Mai mentally wills her husband not to disturb her solitude.

"If you love me, please don't come in. Don't make me look at you, don't make me act like I know you... A bag of chips, a glass of seltzer with a slice of lemon would be OK, and if you can spare me even that quick, soft look that suggests that I am somehow connected to you, I'll be more grateful than you can imagine and I'll tell everyone how I could not have made it through this without you."

Not that the husband's a selfless saint, either: "The thought of her suddenly appearing in public with her chemically puffed face and a witch's wig makes him miserable, and so ashamed of his pettiness that he wishes Mai were completely healthy or dead."

Returning to the Sampson family, first introduced in "Come to Me," Bloom unfurls within a jewel box a patchwork quilt of human error. Fifteen years ago, Lionel once slept with his just-widowed stepmother and the biological mother of his younger brother; when we meet him in "Night Vision," he initially comes off the page as a painfully shamed man unsure how to find romantic happiness. Some ten years later, when we encounter him once again at a family holiday gathering in "Light Into Dark," the broken communication between stepmother and son now securely restored but the past still not discussed, the portrait is one of a callous heartbreaker--still unsure of how to find romantic happiness. It is an evolution that Bloom paints without so many words, showing rather than telling; even still, her observations are precise.

Stripped of their scars, 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.

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