Strong first collection from a robotics researcher at MIT who knows, despite it all, that heart is every bit as important as math.
Iagnemma’s prose is always lively, well suited to the quirky characters and odd subjects he tends toward. The fine title story, winner of prizes from Pushcart and the Paris Review, follows a Ph.D. candidate at a failing Michigan engineering institute as he ruminates on history, math, his weird girlfriend, and love in a world that is as complex as an equation, but that refuses solution: “There are elements in nature, I’ve noticed, that cannot be explained or reproduced, that simply are. It’s enough to give a person hope.” “The Phrenologist’s Dream” (of a perfect woman’s skull) is a good excuse for the history of an offbeat science—but shouldn’t the hapless doctor suspect that the perfect skull, when she arrives, might also be a femme fatale? More love between mathematicians comes in “Zilkowski’s Theorem,” a Best American selection, where romantic betrayal might just bleed into the refutation of important theories. A progressive couple (“The Confessional Approach”) in a fanciful world—she designs artistic mannequins, he sells them to gun owners for target practice—go through changes as their lives become more business-oriented. And in “Children of Hunger,” controversial experiments on living subjects provide context for the story of a woman who spends a lifetime in the shadow of the greatness of her scientist husband—and amid the surprising possibility of family. Whether Iagnemma can step outside from these subjects may be in doubt, but he has the lonely man of science down pat: “A scientist’s life, he thought miserably, was like a midnight walk across an unfamiliar field, without a lantern, without even the moon’s faint glow for guidance.”
Meteoric, and still going up.