Short works from the author of Lightning Rods (2011) and The Last Samurai (2000).
“Many years ago a friend commented that we rarely see fiction that shows the way mathematicians think.” Few authors would take this observation as a challenge, but few authors are like DeWitt. One of the distinguishing features of DeWitt’s work is a sense of curiosity. She seems to find everything interesting, so she makes everything interesting. The story that springs from that friend’s offhand remark is “My Heart Belongs to Bertie,” the tale of a man who writes children’s books that explain complex mathematical principles. The story contains charts mapping various probabilities, and if that sounds tedious, it is not, because DeWitt has crafted an utterly sympathetic character who would most definitely use charts. “Famous Last Words” includes equations that will probably be inscrutable to most readers, but the very fact that the equations are there tells us so much about the two people who inhabit this odd love story. Literary theory is deftly deployed. There are amusing and illuminating footnotes. Many of these pieces depict the backside or underside of creative work. DeWitt explores the impact of contractual obligations on music, for example, as well as the inner workings of the publishing industry as seen from a variety of viewpoints. Money is shown to be more important than we tend to like to think it is when it comes to art. DeWitt’s wide-ranging intellect makes these stories, but it’s her sense of humor and profound humanity that make them work. She approaches her weirdos and screw-ups with keen-eyed honesty but also with sincere affection. And the first story, “Brutto,” has one of the most satisfying closing lines ever. This collection has many delights, but it’s worth picking up just for that.
DeWitt continues to explore the limits of storytelling with these slyly charming tales.