Due to a rookie mistake (setting a post to publish at 2 AM instead of 2 PM, Alyssa?!? I mean, honestly…) this post is being run a day late.
My apologies to the people at TLC Book Tour and anyone who came over from there looking for the review; however, my regular readers won’t be surprised I made such a doofus move…
Be sure to check out the other reviews, but especially Picky Girl’s; not only because it’s her review day that I’m horning in on, but because she has some AWESOME reviews in general. I think I just found a new favorite blog.
One of my favorite movies is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not just for the story or the acting (or Mark Ruffalo being Mark Ruffalo and therefore adorable and one of my fake boyfriends,) but for the realism it manages to convey. One of the best scenes is the one that a lot of people who hated the movie cite, where Joel and Clementine are smothering each other with a pillow. That scene is great because it shows the weird, wacky parts of being in a relationship and reminds us of the strangeness that happens when no one is looking in on us. It’s really hard to capture that realness and truth, but that scene does it. I got that same feeling of truth while reading Love, in Theory by E.J. Levy; a collection of short stories about love and romance through modern eyes.
As usual, the book’s description says it best:
In this funny, brainy, thoroughly engaging debut collection, an award-winning writer looks at romance through the lens of scholarly theories to illuminate love in the information age.
In ten captivating and tender stories, E. J. Levy takes readers through the surprisingly erotic terrain of the intellect, offering a smart and modern take on the age-old theme of love—whether between a man and woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, or a mother and a child—drawing readers into tales of passion, adultery, and heartbreak. A disheartened English professor’s life changes when she goes rock climbing and falls for an outdoorsman. A gay oncologist attending his sister’s second wedding ponders dark matter in the universe and the ties that bind us. Three psychiatric patients, each convinced that he is Christ, give rise to a love affair in a small Minnesota town. A Brooklyn woman is thrown out of an ashram for choosing earthly love over enlightenment. A lesbian student of film learns theories of dramatic action the hard way—by falling for a married male professor. Incorporating theories from physics to film to philosophy, from Rational Choice to Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, these stories movingly explore the heart and mind—shooting cupid’s arrow toward a target that may never be reached.
The winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, Love, in Theory intrigued me, but I was slightly wary. Short stories seem like they should be easy, but they are notoriously difficult to write and write well. You don’t have the luxury of wasting words and time on phrases that don’t serve purpose—every flaw in a writer’s ability will be glaringly obvious like grass stains on a church dress. The only stains I noticed with Levy’s stories were that they had the same voice throughout, as if I could feel Levy reading them to me. This is great because it made me feel like I could really sense the author through the whole collection; but then again, when read in one sitting the stories began to blend.
Levy does a great job of drawing you into her characters, but never too far in. That’s the beauty of a short story and the detriment of the book overall. It’s a wonderful thing to just touch on a character’s life and be privy to a part of them, it’s almost more telling and satisfying than an entire book about the character or situation. However, there’s a coolness to these people that Levy has written about that seems at odds with the topic. You’d think a book about love should be full of passion, and while it is, it’s a sort of detached passion. I’m fine with detached passion, but I want some real straight up passion thrown in the mix for funsies.
My problem may be that I compare most contemporary short story collections to my favorite, Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff. That collection has characters that vary in background, race, education and socioeconomic background, and you really feel it in each and every story. Love, in Theory has the same variances, but I feel the characters are all still connected in personality or worldview. The collection seems like it’d be most effective if read in spurts, one story at a time. It’s like watching an entire season of House or C.S.I. at once; on their own, each episode is fine but when you gulp the entire work down, you start seeing a bit of the formula.
I started to talk about the individual stories, but we all know I am no good at being succinct and I don’t want to ruin the collection for anyone interested in reading it. Because it really is a great read, my previous comments aside. Levy picks up on that honesty that I first talked about, the reality of living and falling in love. There were paragraphs and sentences that brought up my own experiences and had me thinking even after I finished the story. Like, when recalling an offer that was made and could have started a love affair, the character says, years later, “I said I would think about it. And I have.” It’s small sentences like that where Levy shines, the small paragraphs that make you want to highlight them or show the person sitting next to you.
I definitely recommend Love, in Theory. It’s not perfect, but very good and leans into great more than a few times. It’s a great read, and perfect for a commute. If you do read it on the bus or train, however, make sure that you don’t miss your stop—I found myself staring off after finishing a story more than a few times, just thinking. Which, in and of itself, is a huge recommendation right there.