How do you make a dazzling,
compulsively readable novel out of such a tragic story? While a first glance at
the dust jacket suggests a laborious, dirge-like read, Amy Bloom immediately
takes the reader by the shoulders and spins him or her about-face from the very
first page. Her style is immediate, arresting, and finely-tuned. Her sentences
nail it every time, the details and tone are spot-on, and the results are by
turns energizing and devastating.
As the title suggests, Away is a story of leaving. Over and over again, Lillian leaves people and places in search of a home that might not exist. Those who offer her help, lodging or work, both honorable and terrible, appear as bright flashes in a darkened room, their images burned in the reader's mind long after they've disappeared. As Lillian leaves each character behind, Bloom spins out a brief, fairy-tale-like story of his or her fate that leaves the reader breathless, moved, and deeply satisfied. It's a device that could easily wear itself out by the second chapter, but instead reads fresh and unexpected each time.
On a purely formal level, Away is stunning, and succeeds as a gleaming showcase for Amy Bloom's considerable talents. However, what makes Away an up-all-night read is its vitality, the breath that makes it all come alive. It’s a tight story – 235 pages span three years and a cast of characters each worthy of their own novel; but the focus is clear - Bloom’s spotlight pans where it needs to, and then stops on a dime, showing you where to look, deep at the quick of the story, where it pulses with life.
Amy Bloom is the author of two novels, two collections of short stories and one book of nonfiction. She has been nominated for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies.
She has written for many publications including the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon. A practicing psychotherapist for more than 20 years, she lives in Connecticut and teaches at Yale University.
This review was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the June 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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