Who Do You Love

Thompson, Jean

Published by Harcourt Brace
ISBN 10: 0151004161 / ISBN 13: 9780151004164
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Synopsis: Jean Thompson is a short-fiction writer of rare integrity and insight into the bruised lives of Americans, the emotional complexities of love, and the resiliency of the human spirit. The fifteen stories in this splendid collection-three never before published-illuminate real and imagined human needs and, in doing so, tell us something new about ourselves. A young woman has an epiphany, walking along the snow-drifted shoulder of a monotonous highway in the Midwest. The quiet rhythm of a suburban neighborhood is disrupted by peculiar activity at the local firehouse. A city cop on the graveyard shift internalizes the desperation of those he encounters night after night. And the formidable vastness of the Pacific Ocean humbles an urban junkie and his girlfriend in search of salvation. In precise and unsparing prose, Thompson dispels the comfort of taking life-and love-for granted, begging the very question of identity. Who are you? Who do you love?

Review: Unrequited love is an old standard, but in Who Do You Love Jean Thompson hauls it out of the hope chest and makes it new. Her territory is the passionate, off-kilter intersection between women and men who have long ago resigned themselves to lovelessness and deep disappointment. In her third collection of short stories, people "don't say that much, but don't expect to. The old grievances, failure, and shame are turning into history, inch by inch." Not that they don't struggle against their fates. A policeman answers a routine call and looks to make a difference in a single mother's life, to ruinous consequences. A widower is forced to put his house up for sale, and proceeds to haunt the young couple who move in with his unending grief. Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, a young girl witnesses the battle raging in her house between her veteran father and patriotic mother.

Thompson skinny-dips into her characters' skulls. We eavesdrop on their most private thoughts, their justifications and reversals of conscience, as they weigh fleeting passions against long-term longings. Anyone want to place a wager on what wins out in the end? While they lazily play out moments of moral turpitude in unassuming settings, these characters observe the scenery with a constant supply of devastating dialogue. Witness Benny in "The Little Heart," as she carries on a conversation with Pete, a lover half her age: "You are the most beautiful creature. Hush. You are. I'm crazy about you. Throwing caution to the winds here." Lesser writers would stop right there, leaving the passage flat and artless, but listen to the bomb Thompson drops in the very next line: "Do you know I've been menstruating for longer than you've been alive?" Who Do You Love can occasionally fall into the variations-on-a-theme category, but there's nothing tedious here. Thompson's prose is often witty and her delvings into seaminess--drugs, flings, futile jobs--are never patronizing or sensational. In her world there's always a little room left over at the end for grace. --Ryan Boudinot

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Title: Who Do You Love
Publisher: Harcourt Brace
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Very Good

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Jean Thompson
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