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“I never think of any subject as taboo”: a conversation with Amy Bloom, author of WHERE THE GOD OF LOVE HANGS OUT

January 10th, 2011

Where the God of Love Hangs OutAmy Bloom is the bestselling author of Away and most recently Where the God of Love Hangs Out, a collection of stories.

Random House Reader’s Circle: In this collection of short stories, you tackle some new themes, notably love in the second half of life, and death. Why did you decide to go in this new direction? How do you see these stories fitting in with your earlier collections?

Amy Bloom: I think that generally the subject chooses the writer, not the other way around. It seems natural, even inevitable, that as I get older certain issues and moments in life that might
have been less central to me at thirty-five are now more present, and although a number of the stories in this collection are told from the point of view of younger protagonists, both of the quartets have to do with the passage of time. In the Lionel and Julia quartet, I was particularly interested in ending with a story that was largely focused on the point of view of people who were about to become the patriarchs and matriarchs of a family, having always been seen in these stories as “the kids.”

RHRC: You are known for tackling love’s taboos, particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality. What are some of the taboos you explore in this collection?

AB: The truth is I never think of any subject as taboo. And the things that I think of as truly taboo— pedophilia, sexual violence— don’t usually write about. As Camus once said, we do not choose whom we love. To me, this seems to be not only the way it is in life but probably the way it should be. I am all for loving relationships in which the couple at the center are a match set in terms of height, weight, color, and socially approved orientation. But it doesn’t strike me as any better or more blessed or more heartwarming than when people who clearly are not a match set on the outside are so clearly meant to be together on the inside.

RHRC: Tell us a little about your choice to write interlocking stories, as opposed to a novel or a single story?

AB: Perhaps one of the more striking aspects of both quartets is that they don’t just cover long periods of time in the life of my characters, they were also actually written over long periods of
time—years. One quartet took me seven years to finish and the other sixteen years. Linked short stories are a wonderful way for me to split the difference between the range and scope of a novel
and the compression and pace of a short story.

RHRC: The Lionel and Julia story “Sleepwalking” first appeared in your celebrated collection Come to Me. What was it like for you as a writer to revisit these characters in this collection? How did your understanding of the characters evolve over time?

AB: Of course I wouldn’t have revisited them if I hadn’t felt they had more stories in them and I could begin to see them in new ways. Two aspects of the quartets that were most gratifying: first, that I think I have become a better writer and am more able to put the skills I have in the service of my characters; and second, as in life, time gives you the opportunity to see events differently and to understand the actors in ways that were not possible the first time around. For example, although I always felt a great deal of sympathy for Julia it was only in the last story that I could really feel both the loss that had shaped her life and her unwillingness to yield to that.

Children, stepchildren, and the love between a parent and a child play a central role in many of these stories. At many times in this collection, the love for a child is in conflict with romantic love. Why did you choose to write about how people balance different loves?

AB: When is romantic love not in conflict with a child— if you have children? It is a wonderful, moving, heart- filling experience to sit with the man or woman you love and your beloved children and know that all are happy to be just where they are with each other and loving one another. This doesn’t happen very often. Somebody has taken somebody else’s sweater, somebody has driven the car without permission, somebody is making a terrible choice in a career or fiancé, or someone is ill, or the adults are putting a good face on misfortune for the sake of the beloved children, or the beloved children would rather be somewhere else. . . . Seems to me that family life is a long ride full of ups and downs, moments of sartori- like bliss, and moments when you feel like you’re in a second-rate sitcom.

RHRC: In the William and Clare stories, you write about the love between two people, but their relationship ripples throughout the lives of their families. You seem to be exploring the way love
touches people at their core and also at the more superficial but important edges. Why did you choose to move in this direction?

AB: The ripple effect of love, of hate, of indifference, the consequences of one’s actions, are always of interest to me. In Come to Me, I wrote a story about a woman who chooses to go back to her
husband rather than go off with her lover, not because she couldn’t bear to hurt her husband and her children but because she felt she would be an inadequate and unhappy stepmother, and, in the end, a bad wife to a second husband. In the William and Clare stories, part of what I was writing about is that in midlife, in the face of an unexpected and powerful love, one has a lot to lose. Inevitably, there is loss, some of which people recover from and some of which they don’t— another theme of mine.

RHRC: You are known for your titles, and the stories in this collection are no exception. Tell us a little about how you chose these titles.

AB: “Where the God of Love Hangs Out” is a little unusual for me because of the colloquial phrase “hangs out.” I ended up choosing that in part because it reflected the setting of that particular
story, which is a dive in a dying town. My hope for every title is that it actually adds something to the story. It doesn’t summarize it and it doesn’t preview it, it gives something to the story that
wouldn’t be there otherwise.

RHRC: Tell us a little about your writing process. Also, what writing projects are you currently pursuing?

AB: My writing process such as it is consists of a lot of noodling, procrastinating, dawdling, and avoiding. I usually write fiction in the afternoon. I am currently at work on a couple of television
projects—one about family, one about cops—and another novel, which is about sisters, parents, psychics, orphanages, and vaudeville.

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