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In Full Bloom

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Love Invents Us
By Amy Bloom
Vintage Books paperback; 205 pp.; $12

Love and obsession in the New York 'burbs

By Karen Reardanz

AMY BLOOM HAS AN intricate understanding of human relationships. The author--best known for her acclaimed collection of short stories Come to Me--paid the bills until recently as a psychoanalyst. She has, then, by means of profession, gathered her fair share of wrenched hearts, obsessive behavior and love-struck woes.

In her first novel, Love Invents Us, Bloom weaves together all the tattered souls and heartache she's seen into Elizabeth Taubes, a half-Jewish girl from New York who discovers love--familial, sexual, friendly and obsessive--and wraps her entire existence around this precious emotion. Bloom develops a passionate tale that twists and turns powerfully through love and lust, unflinching heartache and confusion, and culminates in a heartbreaking yet redemptive solace.

We first glimpse the preadolescent Elizabeth standing in the back of Furs By Klein clad only in a sable coat and cotton undies. It is the chubby preteen's first glimpse into the world of adult love, and she sees the kindly, older Mr. Klein simply as a man who, with his afternoon rides home, saves her from torturous bus rides, who woos her with chocolates and tells her she's beautiful when no one else does. To her, he is not the Humbert Humbert he fears he may become, and she is saddened when he ends their friendship before he takes it too far.

It is Max Stone, Elizabeth's married English teacher, however, who consumates his burgeoning attraction for the high schooler, an act that will ultimately spell disaster. He is the one who catastrophically blurs the lines between love and responsibility and helps turn her into the reluctant Lolita she starts to become. And it is Elizabeth's detached and repulsed reaction to their affair that powers his downward spiral into a world of Scotch-infused obsession and crippling distraction.

Elizabeth's interactions with the people she loves, from her distant mother and the lovely-yet-stifling elderly woman she cares for, to the cloudy-eyed passion she feels for the love of her life, Huddie (her basketball-playing boyfriend for whom she lives and breathes), are the core of Love Invents Us. As the title suggests, Elizabeth's primary makeup stems less from genetics than from the imprints made upon her by those she's loved.

At times Elizabeth, Max and Huddie seem ravaged by love; at times they bask in the glow of it. Love Invents Us transposes the normal conventions of love--for these three, and those who love them, there are no happy endings, but each comes to reluctant terms with his or her own romantic and human fate.

While Elizabeth is not always the most stable character--she wanders from wonderfully spirited, bright and quirky to disheveled and unfocused in what seems like a matter of moments--it is Bloom's masterful command of language that propels the book. Through her prose she evokes the wild and sensuous gropings of first lust, the veiled disgust Elizabeth feels toward Max's touch, the tattered and distant relationship she has with her mother. It is her visceral, instinctive writing that makes the characters' actions--however remote and unlikely they may seem--feel like you're experiencing them firsthand.

With these words, Bloom leaves an unfillable ache. Love destroys as much as it creates for her characters, and it is unclear if the inexplicable pleasure of those few fleeting moments is worth the pain they leave behind.

Love Invents Us spans 30 aching years, and illustrates, in exhilarating, wrenching detail, just how love soars, illuminates and eats you alive.

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From the February 26-March 4, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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