National Book Award finalist Amy Bloom has written a tale of growing up that is sharp and funny, rueful and uncompromisingly real. A chubby girl with smudged pink harlequin glasses and a habit of stealing Heath Bars from the local five-and-dime, Elizabeth Taube is the only child of parents whose indifference to her is the one sure thing in her life. When her search for love and attention leads her into the arms of her junior-high-school English teacher, things begin to get complicated.
And even her friend Mrs. Hill, a nearly blind, elderly black woman, can't protect her when real love--exhilarating, passionate, heartbreaking--enters her life in the gorgeous shape of Huddie Lester.
With her finely honed style and her unflinching sensibility, Bloom shows us how profoundly the forces of love and desire can shape a life.
The first two thirds of this first novel exhibit many of the excellent qualities seen in Bloom's highly praised short-story collection, Come to Me. Again, Bloom's prose combines lyrical imagery with a comfortable vernacular; her protagonist's vision of the world is distinctive, wry and intense. We meet Elizabeth Taube as a preteen in upper-middle class Great Neck, Long Island. Perceptive enough to know that she is unloved by her mother, a chilly interior decorator, and her father, a remote accountant, she is too innocent to understand the attentions of an elderly furrier, who teaches her about the power of the body to arouse passion. A short while later, she acquires the two lovers who will have the largest impact on her life. One of these, Max Stone, is her junior-high school English teacher and a clear father figure. Max tries and fails to repress the sexual aspect of his love for Elizabeth, and as a result ends up a broken man. While Max is almost entirely unsympathetic, Elizabeth's other lover, a black high school star athlete named Huddie Lester, is often too good to be true. The sure hand for characterization and plotting that Bloom showed in her stories is not always in evidence here; a blind black woman that Liz befriends is a fully realized and memorable character, yet her parents are especially unpleasant and underdeveloped. The book's pacing sometimes lags, and the last third of the novel, with Elizabeth a middle-aged mother, lacks credibility. Yet Bloom's beautifully inflected prose captivates a reader. Her keenly perceptive evocation of a young woman's burgeoning self-awareness and her sensuous descriptions of erotic passion are fashioned with undeniable intelligence and grace. 40,000 first printing; author tour. FYI: The first chapter of this novel is virtually identical to a story in Come to Me titled "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines.''