A smart, insightful collection of stories about life and love.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2013

LOVE, IN THEORY

TEN STORIES

Levy’s award-winning short story collection masterfully explores the vagaries of romantic love.

In Levy’s (Amazons: A Love Story, 2012) 10 lyrical gems, disparate characters struggle without someone to love, and some are paralyzed and shocked by the loss of affection. In “Theory of Transportation,” Thomas sleepwalks to a movie theater on the night of his lover’s death. In “The Best Way Not to Freeze,” a reclusive English professor, Katie, falls for Ben, a man of the world who teaches her how to portage a canoe in the wilderness, but after invigorating her life, he returns to his ex. Most of Levy’s stories are peopled with highly educated characters interested in highbrow subjects—Nietzsche, French Impressionism, Persian rugs. They can’t help intellectualizing the confusing whys and hows of love. For example, in “Theory of Enlightenment,” Gil leaves Renee, trading their discussions of botany and Mahler for yogic asanas and incense at a Buddhist retreat. “Sometimes one plus one can equal less than two,” Gil tells her. Levy’s prose is deeply philosophical and sometimes heady but never pompous. It depicts infidelity and loss yet avoids melancholy and sentimentality, as the characters often don’t have the expected reactions to difficulties—they are too cerebral for that. Levy beautifully explores the pitfalls of domestic life in “Gravity,” in which Richard attends his sister’s second wedding, as do his mother, father and father’s mistress. The bride is nearly inconsequential in this poignant vignette; instead, the story focuses on Richard, who evaluates his own relationship in light of his familial peculiarities. The final story, “Theory of Dramatic Action,” employs a second-person narrator, as if to finally address the reader directly; it’s also the only one bordering on edgy, as a dominatrix tempts the heroine. Levy’s taut prose, intelligence and emotional acuity penetrate nearly every sentence. Fans of Amy Bloom’s short stories are likely to enjoy Levy’s work. Readers will likely savor this collection, a 2011 winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, for its intoxicating language and introspection.

A smart, insightful collection of stories about life and love.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0820343495

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more