AWAY by Amy Bloom (Random House), 260 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Though I loved writer and psychotherapist Amy Bloom's past books (Normal, her non-fiction trip to the transgender world, and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, her deft story collection focusing on relationships), I came to Away with some trepidation.
It's a novel about a Russian Jew searching for her daughter against the backdrop of 1920s America, suggesting more traditional societal and narrative tropes than her previous works.
Yet as my own therapist might observe, such worries are unfounded. Bloom sharply observes people in trying contemporary situations and transforms historical archetypes into believable characters.
Heroine Lillian Leyb exemplifies the strength of spirit and flexibility of identity we've come to expect from Bloom and her subjects. As the book begins, Leyb has immigrated to New York City after her family was killed in a pogrom. When she learns that her daughter might still be alive, she sets out to find her.
The ensuing narrative encompasses deception, infidelity, prostitution, murder, a death-wish wilderness trek and - more than once - true love.
Such a plot line could come off tearjerky, lurid or saccharine, so it's a testament to Bloom's storytelling that Away's many moments of redemption don't overshadow its many darker ones, or vice versa.
Think Joan Didion's The Year Of Magical Thinking meets Susanna Moodie's Roughing It In The Bush. Or a novelized, feminist edition of Man's Search For Meaning, psychologist Viktor E. Frankl's death-camp classic on survival against all odds.
Either way, Away effectively reflects the fantasy-challenging, loss-imbued - and entirely worthwhile - journey of real life and real love.
Bloom reads Saturday (October 20), 8 pm, in the Brigantine Room and joins a round table Sunday (October 21), 2 pm, at the Lakeside Terrace.