Mai’s husband, Charley, tries to cheer her up when she goes for her chemotherapy treatment, but his little flamenco dance doesn’t really amuse her.
After one nurse tries FOUR times to insert a needle into Mai’s hand, she gets Ginger, the one who can do it right, “slapping and massaging the back of the left hand until a small vein lifts up.”
These are just a few of the myriad details author Amy Bloom injected into “Rowing to Eden,” which is part of her collection of short stories “A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.”
But Bloom, who will read excerpts from her work on Tuesday at King’s College’s Burke Auditorium in Wilkes-Barre, doesn’t just tell you about what’s going on in a character’s physical surroundings.
Here’s a glimpse into Mai’s heart and mind, where she once thought she’d outlive her husband and retire with her long-time friend Ellie:
“Ellie is pretty sure that her days of looking for a spouse are over; Mai thinks so too, and used to imagine that when Charley died, at a suitable but not horribly advanced age, of a swift-moving but not painful disease, she and Ellie would retire to her parents’ house in Oslo, or buy the little yellow house on Pearl Street in Provincetown that they walked past on spring break twenty-one years ago. Now it seems possible that Ellie will sit on a porch slugging back brandy with some other old lady, and that Charley will grow old with someone who has two breasts and a full head of hair.”
Read that story and you might wonder how Bloom is able to describe everything from bags of drugs to buttons and lights on a chemo machine to the thought process of someone fighting a serious illness?
“The truth is, with the Internet and a willingness to hang around a hospital, you can learn a lot,” Bloom said in a telephone interview. “But actually my best friend had breast cancer, and I spent a lot of time watching the drip of chemotherapy.”
Her friend is doing well now, said Bloom, who also has created characters as diverse as an immigrant woman whose family was killed in a Russian pogrom (that’s the main character in the New York Times best-selling novel “Away”), a young woman haunted by her roommate’s murder, and an American mother coming to the realization that her child may be a boy born into a girl’s body.
After years of writing for adults, Bloom penned a children’s book about a lumpy, dumpy vegetable, “Little Sweet Potato,” who eventually, after rolling through carrot patches and past glossy eggplants, finds self-acceptance.
“A message is an OK thing in children’s books,” Bloom said. “In fiction for grown-ups, the story is the thing. I let them draw their own conclusions.”
Bloom, who lives in Connecticut, “smack dab between Yale, where I used to teach, and Wesleyan, where I teach now,” said it’s not difficult to find subjects.
“I find the world a really interesting place. I feel very lucky to be able to participate in it,” she said. “I don’t actually look for new subjects. Just open your eyes and they’re right there in front of you.”
A former psychotherapist, Bloom hasn’t practiced for about 10 years but said her training in that field still benefits her writing. “It’s learning to listen and paying attention to people, to what they say and to how they feel about what they’re saying. That’s all very helpful.”
Her visit to King’s College is co-sponsored by the school’s English department and Experiencing the Arts program. As the 2013 Visiting Writer, she will be available to advise students on their writing.
“We’re really excited about that,” instructor of English Jennifer Yonkoski said.
Bloom’s advice to would-be writers? As someone who spends at least four hours a day at her craft, typically working in a shed that’s separate from her home, the author said: “Don’t just think about it. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just daydream about it. Write. Be prepared to fail and be prepared to survive failing and write some more.”
After her debut novel, “Love Invents Us,” Bloom’s short fiction collections earned numerous accolades. “Where the God Of Love Hangs Out” was a New York Times best-seller, “Come to Me,” was a National Book Award finalist, and “A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You” became a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.
Her next novel, “Lucky Us,” will be published by Random House in early 2014.