‘Love is Not a Pie’ by Amy Bloom

At the heart of Amy Bloom’s sun-drenched story ‘Love is Not a Pie’ is a memory of the narrator Ellen’s giddily perfect childhood summer, spent in a ramshackle cabin next to a lake, the place filled with her family and much-loved guests, Mr DeCuervo and his daughter Gisela. 

Surrounded by pines, birches, mossy rocks, eating pancakes and peanut butter sandwiches, swimming, rowing, drinking orange crush, Ellen is drunk on her freedom. This is such a beautifully evoked slice of heaven. Even when the monsoon comes and the electricity packs up the holiday isn’t spoiled. Monopoly is pulled out. Ellen’s mother cuts oranges and starts her rainy day ritual of making sangria. The kids stomp about naked on the porch in the rain. 

The adults here are in the background, free of rules, in their own summer utopia, fishing, drinking, playing poker, dancing to Billy Holiday, holding each other, Ellen’s mother and father and Mr DeCuervo even sharing a bed. 

What I love about this story is that Ellen is remembering this holiday inside the grief of her mother’s funeral, where, as an adult, she realises clear as a bell that Mr DeCuervo was also her mother’s lover, and that her father knew and embraced it. As her mother states on her deathbed “love is not a pie” – there is plenty to go round. 

This revelation doesn’t mean the story becomes clouded in darkness or confusion; it opens it out. Mr DeCuervo and Ellen’s father hold each other weeping at the wake, and, amongst this pathos, there is a celebration of love in all its complicated forms. 

Amy Bloom, as well as being a writer, is a psychotherapist, and I think she hits on a truth here: that sometimes in the disconnect of grief there is a wisdom that allows you to accept something that otherwise would have been untenable. Or maybe it is unrealistic, but I’m here for it anyway. I grew up in my own complicated hippy family that I either remember with hazy nostalgia or hot shame. I know which I prefer. Amy Bloom chooses optimism and joy in this story and I’m grateful for that. Last thing – this whole collection is full of killer first lines and ‘Love Is Not A Pie’ is no exception. It begins: 

In the middle of the eulogy of my mother’s boring and heart-breaking funeral, I began to think about calling off the wedding.

Chosen by Shelley Hastings. Shelley is a writer and dramaturg based in London. Her short stories have been published by Galley Beggar Press, Southword Magazine, The Common Breath and The Mechanics Institute Review. @peckhamshell

First Published in Room of One’s Own, 1990. Collected in Best American Short Stories, 1991, and Come to Me, HarperCollins, 1993

‘When the Year Grows Old’ by Amy Bloom

‘When the Year Grows Old’ introduces a sensible, practical suburban housewife in the midst of a nervous breakdown. No longer prepared or able to meet the demands of her controlling husband, Laura sets up a camp bed in the basement of her neat suburban house and regresses to her barefoot, black-clad student days. Her daughter observes this sudden change in her mother from the side-lines as Laura develops a penchant for Dunhill cigarettes and quoting Blake. Loss is a constant theme in Amy Bloom’s work, and this story about loss of youth, loss of love, loss of life, is wonderful. I love the juxtaposition of mother and daughter, and the temptation to regress to what is arguably a more complicated and yet ultimately freer time of life.

First published in Story, 1992, and collected in Come to Me, HarperPerennial, 1993, and Rowing to Eden, Granta, 2015

‘Your Borders, Your Rivers, Your Tiny Villages’ by Amy Bloom

Rejoice! Amy Bloom has a new novel coming this spring. She’s a hero of mine. Until then, try this story, which is a snapshot of a middle aged couple — not beautiful, not thin, not mocked for this — surprised to find themselves rewriting the scripts for four lives. It’s about companionable love and sex. It is a story for grown ups.

Published in Ploughshares in Fall 2002; anthologised in Where the God of Love Hangs Out, published by Granta, 2010.