Judith Arnold’s origins are in category romance, but in recent books she’s begun to carve her own path. With Love in Bloom’s she marks a significant departure from traditional romance.
Ida Bloom is the aging matriarch of the Bloom family, who with her late husband established the renowned New York Jewish deli Bloom’s. Their son Ben was president and managing officer of the family company. It has been a year since his death (ironically from bad fish while checking out sturgeon in Russia), and Ida needs to name a new president for Bloom’s. The obvious candidates are Sondra, Ben’s widow and mother of their two daughters Julia and Susie, or her other son Jay, whose devotion to Blooms is diluted by his interest in golf, his young trophy wife, and the Internet.
Ida surprises everyone by naming Julia, her twenty-something granddaughter and an associate with a New York law firm. After thought and discussion, Julia agrees to be president but secretly her intention is to remain merely a figurehead while her mother Sondra really runs the company.
Gotham Magazine, a prominent local publication, assigns Ron Joffe to write a cover story on the changes at Bloom’s. This forces Julia to assume the actual role of president if only for appearances, but soon she begins examining the store’s image and financial status and making changes in its management. She asks her sister Susie, a free-spirited part-time poet and pizza restaurant waitress, to redo the store’s look. Susie is happy to have the excuse to spend more time in the deli because she’s fallen in lust at first sight with a handsome bagel department clerk.
Jay resents he was not named president of Bloom’s by his mother. He believes the Gotham article will reveal the depth of his abilities and cause Ida to rethink her decision. Ron finds himself strongly attracted to Julia and extends the time necessary to write his article so that he can be around her more. As a result, Julia takes a leave of absence from her law firm and establishes her presence at Bloom’s. She will uncover what appears to be systematic theft from the company.
Love in Bloom’s is not an easy novel to synopsize because there are so many interconnecting threads to its plot. It is closer to women’s fiction rather to than standard romance. Most romance characters can be compared to mass-produced white bread -they’re generally WASPs and rarely have any religious affiliation, even the ubiquitous vicar’s daughter sheds her upbringing and practice of church attendance once she arrives in London. Love in Bloom’s discards this tradition. It’s unapologetically ethnic - most of the characters are New York Jews, one scene has the family at a Passover seder, and Yiddish expressions are sprinkled throughout the narrative. Its ethnicity adds a welcome realistic depth and richness to the characters.
Character development is the book’s strength. These characters come across as real people not as one-dimensional paragons. They’ve got their own biases and agendas. The self-sacrificing Pollyanna heroine would be a foreigner in this story. Moreover, each character is a distinct individual. Although Julia and Susie are devoted sisters, they’re very different from each other. They have different attitudes and personalities, and the men they’re attracted to are correspondingly individual.
The attention given to the mean-spirited family in-fighting, particularly between Sondra and Jay, is overdone. The blurb on the back cover of the ARC I read called this a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy. Maybe I just don’t have the right sense of humor to see the fun in dysfunctional families. While there are several amusing passages, to call Love in Bloom’s a romantic comedy is a glaring misnomer. Second, the main love interest between Julia and Ron barely qualifies as a subplot. The four main female characters - Ida, Sondra and Julia and Susie - have nearly equal roles in the story, and Julia’s career concerns occupy more of her time than her romance with Ron.
Love in Bloom’s original outlook and strong character development make this a book I recommend highly. It’s definitely worth readers’ time if only as a welcome break from the usual cookie-cutter romances that populate bookstore shelves.