Book: Who Do You Love

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Who Do You Love: Stories

Author: Jean Thompson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

In this acclaimed collection, Jean Thompson limns the lives of ordinary people—a lonely social worker, a down-and-out junkie, a divorced cop on the night shift—to extraordinary effect. With wisdom and sympathy and spare eloquence, she writes of their inarticulate longings for communion and grace.Yet even the saddest situations are imbued with Thompson’s characteristic humor and a wry glimmer of hope. With Who Do You Love, readers will discover a writer with rare insight into the resiliency of the human spirit and the complexities of love.


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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