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

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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

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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

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A guidebook to growing old without a single regret for victims who deserved just what they got.

AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED

STORIES

Six more adventures of Maud, the retired language teacher who meets life’s vicissitudes with a refreshingly homicidal approach.

En route to a luxury vacation in South Africa, Maud recalls half a dozen earlier times when her generally untroubled life was threatened by someone who ended up coming to grief. “An Elderly Lady Begins To Remember Her Past” rehashes her latest foray into criminal violence and her satisfying escape from Tursten’s franchise detective, Inspector Irene Huss. “Little Maud Sets a Trap” takes her back to her childhood, when she sticks up for her neurasthenic older sister, Charlotte, by taking condign, though not yet murderous, revenge on the boys who’ve bullied her. “Lancing a Boil” shows how Maud, now a substitute teacher, deals with her demotion when the regular teacher she’s replaced seeks to return to the classroom. “The Truth About Charlotte” recalls Charlotte’s sad demise, which leaves Maud much wealthier and freer to accrue an even larger income and begin her world travels. Maud smartly relieves her longtime neighbor, seamstress Elsa Petrén, of the problems her wastrel son has stuck her with in “The Peter Pan Problem.” And when she finally arrives at her destination in “An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa,” the longest and most deliberately plotted of these stories, she gets to display an unaccustomed generosity, even magnanimity, to an impoverished family brought even lower by a crime Maud is more than happy to avenge. Readers may want to think twice before sampling the appended naughty-and-nice cookie recipes.

A guidebook to growing old without a single regret for victims who deserved just what they got.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-641-29167-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Soho Crime

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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