Monday, October 01, 2012

Book Review: Love, In Theory

After taking a short story class in college in which the overcompensating professor (who was actually just a “Lecturer” and not a tenured prof) made us read nothing but Chekhov for the entire semester, I was kind of ruined on short stories.  I acknowledge the genius of Chekhov, but he’s not exactly known to be uplifting, and after 13 weeks of him I never wanted to read another short story again.  

I’ve slowly made my way back to short stories (helped by wonderful authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, for one) and now approach them with only a little bit of trepidation.  Sometimes I still find that they’re too sad and don’t offer enough time to fully develop the characters (Alice Munro) but other times I finish a story wanting more and thinking about the characters long after I’ve put the book down.  This was definitely the case with Love, In Theory by E. J. Levy.  

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 towards a target that may never be reached.

These stories were elegant, compelling, and beautifully written.  I loved how seamlessly Levy inserted theory into her stories, and how this opened up the characters and the ways they thought about and reacted to love.  There were times that, while reading, I thought “oh but she dropped this one part of the storyline” only to see it picked back up, further along in the story, to effortlessly crescendo into the perfect resolution.  

The stories aren’t all happy, in fact most of them aren’t, but they are interesting, realistic, and for the most part hopeful.  They also examine love from many very different viewpoints, which I found fascinating.  Levy does a fantastic job of setting the scene, be it in a small Minnesota town, Brooklyn, or Costa Rica.  I really felt as though she knows these places and the people in them like an insider, and her writing offers the reader an opportunity to peel back the curtain and peer into their lives.

Short stories still aren’t my first choice--I enjoy the feeling of sinking into a 400-page novel--but if you enjoy short stories, pick up Love, In Theory.  It’s almost impossible to write a perfect short story, but Levy sure comes close.

Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.


Danielle said...

Thanks for the recommendation.

I've never been a big fan of short stories either. I never feel like I can emotionally invest the way I do with a novel.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one even if you aren't necessarily a short story fan.

Thanks for being on the tour!