Blog Tour Review: Love, in Theory

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review: Love, in TheoryLove, in Theory: Ten Stories by E.J. Levy
Published by University of Georgia Press on September 15, 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Short Stories
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover
Source: TLC Book Tours
Goodreads
four-half-stars

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.

First Sentence: “They met in a camping equipment store, where he was working as a clerk and she had come to rent a pair of climbing shoes.”

Review:
In the past, I have always avoided short fiction, with the grudging exception of some anthologies with really appealing themes (ex. Zombies vs. Unicorns). Generally, short stories haven’t made a whole lot of sense to me, since they tend either to be scrapped ideas that weren’t good enough to make into a novel or too short to do a fabulous idea justice. Either I don’t want the story at all or I want it to be much longer, a proper novel. Well, I happily report that E. J. Levy’s short story collection Love, in Theory is precisely what I want short fiction to be.

These ten stories dovetail together nicely, covering a lot of the same ground with slight variations. I love Levy’s writing, even in the stories I didn’t care for as much. She also makes a lot of fabulous observations with a cynicism and honesty I find quite delightful. I expected this collection of stories about love to be something like a written version of the film Love, Actually, and I suppose it sort of is. However, Levy’s stories are all a bit on the melancholy side, lacking the cute couples uniting to make a happy ending, like Love, Actually has, though it actually does have several stories that do not end well.

The last TLC blog tour I participated in was for Before the Rain, a memoir supposedly of love and revolution that follows the romance of two lesbian reporters. I could not help comparing these two, because for all that Before the Rain is non-fiction and Love, in Theory fiction, this short story collection feels infinitely more personal. Having finished this, whether incorrectly or no, I feel I have a sense of who E. J. Levy is, through some of the themes that continually appeared throughout the stories, especially as several of the main characters were writers or worked in academia. In reading this, I felt as though I could sense Levy working through issues she had confronted in her own life or in the lives of close friends and family members. This closeness I felt for the author, whether I’m right or not, made the stories so much more powerful for me.

Over half of the stories focus on well-educated women in their late twenties to early thirties, who struggle with love and romance. These women long for romance, for connection, but, when they find it, the theory of the emotion, the ideal, the dream, does not really seem to fit into their lives. These stories, while they might bore some with the similarity of the heroines, held the most appeal for me, since I cannot help seeing myself reflected in them. Reading about women who have similar reactions and difficulties with romantic relationships to mine was incredibly cathartic.

Another subject that comes up in nearly every story is adultery. If you can’t handle stories of infidelity, this collection will not be for you. The adultery comes in just about every form, and, though that’s a subject I don’t tend to love either, handled quite deftly. This does not seem to have been included for shock value or torridness, but just because that’s life; it’s a thing that happens and, unfortunately, has to be included in any depiction of love, in the working out of what love really might mean in the face of all of this cheating.

The other most interesting repetition, that again I can’t help but stick out to me as perhaps being personal, is that of a lesbian becoming very attracted to a straight man, whether or not she acts on it. Interesting, too, is that the sole gay main character does not question his sexuality, though he does fight against settling down, as almost all of these characters do. The LGBT themes run strongly here, appearing in slightly less than half of the stories.

These stories will not appeal to everyone, but I loved it. A couple of the stories in the middle fell flat for me story-wise, so I couldn’t quite rate this five stars. The themes and tone herein remind me a lot of Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love, so if you enjoyed that I recommend this heartily, and vice versa.

Favorite Quote:

“As a scholar, it was her job to see things in relationship to other things; the only thing she couldn’t see in a relationship was herself.”

10 responses to “Blog Tour Review: Love, in Theory”

  1. trish says:

    I know what you mean about reading stories that are similar to your experiences. Some of the ideas/ideals that I hold most dear were given words by an author who seemed to know my thoughts and feelings.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. I always have trouble with short fiction, but this sounds interesting enough to try. Like you, I could identify with those women you mentioned and their romantic struggles, so that alone makes me want to pick this up right away.
    Lovely review!

    • Christina says:

      You definitely should take a chance on this one. It is so good, and the writing is simply lovely. Short stories aren’t my thing, but these were just what I needed, though I didn’t know it!

  3. Steena says:

    Maybe my attention span is getting worse as I age but I am finding that I enjoy anthologies and short story collections. The Arabian Nights, the Grimm fairy tales, Poe, and the Sherlock collections make for just the right taste before bed. I still love a deeply involved novel but every now and then you just want a twenty minute read that wraps up nicely. I have this book on my list and am looking forward to it.

    Oddly enough, I’ve never much liked Love, Actually. I am the only person I know who didn’t.

  4. I hadn’t heard of this book! Such a great review, Christina–thanks for pulling out some of those themes, as that’s very helpful anyone who is considering reading a collection like this.

  5. EJ Levy says:

    Thank you so much for this smart and insightful and generous review, Christina! It’s wonderful to have a review that teaches me something about my stories.

    • Christina says:

      Thank you kindly for stopping by and I’m glad you like the review. Also, I’m so happy you feel like you learned something from me. Your stories meant a lot to me, so that’s wonderful to hear.

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