Review: Things That Pass For Love


Things That Pass For Love.  Allison Amend.  Short Fiction Collection

This is a solid and lovely collection of thirteen stories that flow together beautifully, unlike many of the collections I’ve read.  It’s no small feat to make all your stories both unique and also connected in some way, and Amend does it here, perhaps solely through her writing style.

Overall though, I was disappointed in about half of the stories.  They skated the edge of brilliance for me, but never quite got there.  The first story, Dominion Over Every Erring Thing,  is a perfect example of this.  From the first line I was absolutely riveted (and it was actually that first line that convinced me to buy this book over another) however, I don’t feel the story finished well.  At all.  It was not as significant as it should have been, or as powerful as it could have been.  Other stories in the collection finished better – The People You Know Best; And Then There Was Claire; and A Personal Matter finish particularly well while others What Was Over There Is Over Here and  Sometimes It’s Like That were filled with potential, but ended unsatisfactorily for me like the first story.

In the end I loved about half of the collection and felt only mediocre about the rest.  For me, Amend’s strongest were:  The World Tastes Good; A Personal Matter; Bluegrass Banjo; The People You Know Best; and And Then There Was Claire.  These were all powerful, emotionally resonant, beautifully written, and had earned endings that felt real to me.

The rest, for me, came very close, but ultimately fell short.   However, the fact that some of these stories did not work for me personally should not imply that I don’t think very highly of Amend.  She has a beautiful and haunting style that I will actively seek out in the future and I look forward to her next collection to see how her work evolves.

3.0 Stars


  1. Shannon’s avatar

    I think publishing a collection of short stories by one author is difficult. Despite the fact that they are indeed separate from one another, we as the reader tend to connect them or we want some sort of transition from one to the next but I don’t know if that doesn’t hinder our ability to appreciate the stories for what they are individually. Of course there are short stories which are written as collections… you know more about this than I do, are these types of books written story by story, or are they collections of stories that the author has written?

    Recently I read 2 collections, one I suffered through as I felt it was written poorly and there were intentionally interconnected details from one story to the next, despite the fact that the characters were all unique. It was called, “Use Me” and the other, which I love love loved, was “No One Belongs Here More Than You”… have you read either of these?

    PS I just used the word collection 5 times.

  2. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    A truly great collection is hard, a perfect one may be impossible. Short stories are such a difficult art, you have to convey so much so quickly and you have to be powerful I think while choosing every word so carefully.

    I tend to prefer collections that are not written specifically with the intention of fitting together into a “collected work”, but are rather just a collection of someone’s existing work – published and unpublished. I think Amend’s work lends itself beautifully to a collection because the stories don’t relate to each other or connect, but her style in general has a consistency to it that really makes the feel of the stories work together despite their differences. Many collections can’t do that.

    If you collected my stories (mostly unpublished) it would be a really uneven book I think…which is probably why I’m not read for that (boo!).

    I have not read USE ME (and on your non-recommendation will probably not seek it out :) but I have read Miranda July’s NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU and I really enjoyed it. I think NO ONE is a good example of the stories really not relating to each other at all, but the style and feel being enough to hold them together into the same book. July is a great writer and I thought NO ONE was really good book. She’s got a style I like because it’s a little modern and experimental, but it’s still got characters and stories that are easy to relate and connect to.

    If you’re into checking out short fiction I’d highly recommend Salinger’s NINE STORIES (still to this day one of the best collections ever) and the recently published DELICATE EDIBLE BIRDS by Lauren Groff, which I think is the first 5 star review I’ve given on here for a short fiction collection.

    ps. this comment originally had ‘collection’ an embarrassing 10 times, but I narrowed it down to 6. yay me!

  3. Shannon’s avatar

    Ooo thanks for the tips. I’ll see if I can grab them on Amazon UK.

    I’m currently trying to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I ordered because I was going to join a book group… lack of motivation helped me to miss the meeting so I am stuck with said book, and dammit, I am going to read it!

    And about NO ONE, I agree that her style is fluid and so easy to relate to which I found nice, and I felt a strong emotional connection to the characters which always helps to make the experience more enriching.

    Have you ever cried at the end of a book, or got so mad that you threw it?

  4. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    The last (and title story) in DELICATE EDIBLE BIRDS was the single most emotional I’ve ever felt at the end of a book/story in my adult life. I felt so helpless and impotent – but it was SO powerful. An amazing story. Now I’m overselling it – always a mistake!

    I also balled my eyes out when reading FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, but that was when I was about 14/15, I haven’t read it since so I don’t know if it would be as powerful now. Other stories/books have made me tear up, but those two are the most powerful memories I have, so I declare them the winners.

    I did throw out GOOD IN BED by Jennifer Weiner as it was the worst book I’d ever read (I only made it about halfway through) and I threw it out because I didn’t want to donate it and risk a single extra person in life potentially having to read it. Not long after that I developed my system for buying books and haven’t had to throw one out since. Yay!

    Have you ever cried or gotten so mad you threw it? What book(s)?

  5. Shannon’s avatar

    Well, I don’t like to admit that I have read some books from Oprah’s selection, but I recall the Time Traveler’s Wife made me cry pretty bad, and I can say that it MAY have been in relation to me going through a break up in real life and feeling especially sappy. That book was kind of crazy though and you KNEW what was going to happen, but you didn’t know when and the book kept switching from the past to the future to the present, and all over, so you were confused, wanted to know where the story was going, and afraid to go on because you knew it was going to happen and when it did it would be out of nowhere.

    I also cried like hell when I read Through a Glass Darkly, but that was when I was in my teens and as you said, I don’t know how I’d feel about it today.

    I also remember that I did throw a book once, but I have no recollection of what it was about.

    Now I feel like I’m in book therapy.

  6. 1979semifinalist’s avatar

    Hey Oprah put Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD on her list…so I really can’t fault her taste. Hold your head high! :)

    THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY has been on my list for a while. I’ll have to move it up. I almost recently bought THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE…can’t remember why I didn’t…will revisit :)

    You’re lucky you’ve blocked out the book you threw. I wish like hell I could block out GOOD IN BED!

    Book Therapy! That’s genius. Let’s do it.

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