Love, in Theory: Ten Stories


In this funny, brainy, thoroughly engaging debut collection, an award-winning writer looks at romance through the lens of scholarly theories to illuminate love in the information age.

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...

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Love, in Theory

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In this funny, brainy, thoroughly engaging debut collection, an award-winning writer looks at romance through the lens of scholarly theories to illuminate love in the information age.

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 toward a target that may never be reached.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Love and loss are as one in Levy's series of short stories, which weave a tapestry of overlapping vignettes from the lives of various couples. Separately, the stories chronicle a point in time for a cast of characters of varying ages, sexual orientations, faiths—but each story deals with love in some form. Together, small details and familiar personalities blur the edges of the stories to form a multifaceted view of one set of circumstances. A master of his form, Levy gradually reveals the consonance in his stories until it becomes clear that the abandonment Renee feels when her lover leaves her for an ashram in "Theory of Enlightenment" is replicated in "Theory of Transportation," in which the narrator's lover leaves to become a monk, and throughout every story. Mirroring the many personas of an individual in love, the collection —both implicitly in its overall structure and explicitly in one of the stories, pays homage to Roland Barthe's A Lover's Discourse. This melancholy collection's multitude of literary references becomes old, though they facilitate a deeper understanding of the characters. Levy is skilled at bringing his characters to life, each story searingly made real through his subtlety and fastidious attention to detail. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher

“A brilliant debut . . . Sad, funny, and always wise, Levy’s stories reveal truths about how we love and lose, trust and betray, with an intelligence that takes my breath away. I’ll be returning to these wonderful stories again and again.”—Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

“This debut collection . . . is wholly beguiling and authoritative, an instruction from first page to last. E. J. Levy has a noticing eye, an epigrammatic way of describing the world, and what she looks at is both freshly seen and shown. Love, in Theory is a practical manual for beginners at and adepts of love, for young and old, for the unrequited and faithful and faithless—which is to say, for us all.”—Nicholas Delbanco, author of Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

“Selfishness has never been sent up as mordantly as it is in E. J. Levy’s debut collection of stories.”—Andrew Holleran, author of Grief

"E.J. Levy’s stories brilliantly and winningly reveal the human heart as it strives to measure its own beating through love. Love, in Theory is a collection richly worthy of Flannery O’Connor’s name."—Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"In all the stories in Love, In Theory, you can see Levy's careful writing. There is rarely a word out of place, and each story offers a new meditation, if you will, on the nautre of love without giving in to cliché. This is a smart, smart book."—Roxanne Gay, I Have Become Accustomed to Rejection blog

"Levy's artful debut story collection finds varied characters—young and old, male and female—confronting the ornery manifestations and delusions of modern love. . . . Levy's 10 engaging stories speak to the sorcery of the heart."—Leah Strauss, Booklist

"[I]ndulge with this clever recipe of intelligent romance."—Sarah Barr, VOX magazine

"A master of her form. . . . Levy is skilled at bringing her characters to life, each story searingly made real through her subtlety and fastidious attention to detail."—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

Meet the Author

E. J. Levy’s fiction and essays have appeared in the Paris Review, the Missouri Review, Gettysburg Review, the New York Times, and Best American Essays and have received a Pushcart Prize and Nelson Algren Award, among other honors. She is the editor of Tasting Life Twice: Literary Lesbian Fiction by New American Writers, which won the Lambda Literary Award. This is her first book of fiction.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

The Best Way Not to Freeze 1

Theory of Enlightenment 29

My Life in Theory 55

Rat Choice 76

Small Bright Thing 101

Theory of Transportation 115

The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota 132

Gravity 147

Theory of the Leisure Class 173

Theory of Dramatic Action 192

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