Amy Bloom's first novel, "Love Invents Us," spills over with the same rich, shaggy eloquence that brought her critical acclaim and award in her short story collection, "Come to Me." This coming-of-age novel's jolie-laide protagonist, Elizabeth Taube, is a disaffected, disconnected-but-spirited girl trapped in the sameness of suburban Long Island. Her self-involved parents may not love her, but others do, including a furrier who takes to picking her up after elementary school so that he can feed her chocolates and wrap her in ash-blonde mink. Perversity is in the eye of the beholder, however, and for the affection-starved Elizabeth, indulging a fur fetish seems a fair trade-off for the mostly chaste paternal affection she receives in exchange.
Bloom doesn't skirt the pain of rejection and loneliness, but embraces it along with the humor and intelligence (and imperfect judgment) that give her characters their aching credibility. Through Elizabeth, Bloom comments wryly on the nature of love, as in this aside about high school sex: "Kids have nowhere to fuck and nowhere to shower. Only adults, cheating and careful, clean up afterwards." At one point in her quest for happiness, Elizabeth, a half-Jewish white girl, wanders into an A.M.E. Zion church, where the minister talks her into helping out Mrs. Hill, an elderly, nearly blind member of the congregation. Mrs. Hill lodges her curmudgeonly, self-righteous self into Elizabeth's affections, and when the opportunity arises, grills Elizabeth's middle school teacher (and, by now, lover) about his intentions regarding "her girl."
"Love Invents Us," is a misleading title for this immensely satisfying read, for while we learn about Elizabeth through her head-ons and sideswipes of the heart, her actual identity -- and her knowing acceptance of the world as a simultaneously disappointing and love-filled place -- needs no invention. It's clear and strong from the book's first sentence: "I wasn't surprised to find myself in the back of Mr. Klein's store, wearing only my undershirt and panties, surrounded by sable." Don't let the near-pedophilia fool you, though, or mask the essence of the love story within -- surprisingly innocent even as it reflects the best and worst of human frailty and desire.