THE THEORY OF LIGHT AND MATTER by Andrew Porter
“The hole was at the end of Tal Walker’s driveway. It’s paved over now. But twelve summers ago Tal climbed into it and never came up again.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (JAN 6, 2009)
The Theory of Light and Matter is Andrew Porter’s debut book of short stories. Mr. Porter is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and his debut collection has already received the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Originally published by the University of Georgia Press, it will be republished by Vintage Books in January 2010. Hopefully, it will find the audience it deserves.
The stories in this collection take place in suburbs across the country – in hallways, backyards, stairwells, schoolrooms, universities, junk yards. The collection is populated by the affluent, the impoverished, the middle class. It is a cross-current of our nation and the people who live here. There are the single, the married, the straight, the gay, the mentally ill, the young and the old. Porter is able to see deeply into the heart and culture of so many different types of lives. That is only one of the things that make this book remarkable. His style of writing is engrossing in every story in the collection. Usually, in a short story collection, one or two stories stand out. In this collection, every one is a winner; each one remains with you and takes a piece of your heart after you close the book.
“Hole” is the story of two boys who take money from an older brother to mow a lawn. During the mowing of the lawn, one of the boys falls down a hole and dies. The boy who survives spends much of his life thinking about the twists and turns of that day, trying to remember what really happened and what are figments of his memory.
“Coyotes” tells about a young man who watches as his parent’s marriage falls apart. He believes that his father is a failed documentary film maker which, in a sense, he is. However, his father has serious psychiatric issues that his mother hides from their son who is too young to realize what is actually occurring.
In “Azul,” a childless couple take in an exchange student and are very poor about setting limits and boundaries for him. Since they have no children of their own, they develop a vicarious family with him, only his role in the dynamic is very indistinct. Mainly, it catalyzes latent issues that already exist between the husband and the wife.
The title story of the book, “The Theory of Light and Matter,” Â is about a female college student who is drawn to her elderly physics instructor who is about thirty years her senior. This is despite her being in love with a young man her own age. Initially, as the story opens, all the students in the physics class are taking an impossibly difficult physics test. The young woman is the only student who completes the test and hands it in. The professor invites her for tea and she accepts. This begins regular meetings and dates between them. The professor propels her to question herself and her life, to veer off center. Perhaps his goal is similar to Heisenberg’s, to help her realize that one can’t always know two determinate values at the same time. Her love for him is consuming but she gives him up for a life of inevitability and sustainability.
In a Pennsylvania village, the Amish teen-agers spend Friday evenings at a strip mall. They depart from their usual outfits and activities. The elders realize that this “Departure” Â is necessary for them in order to do self-exploration. The elders hope that the self-exploration will result in more of the youngsters remaining with their families and on the farms. The local teen-agers go there to watch and interact with the Amish, the different ones. Some do this is out of curiosity, some out of meanness, some just to experiment with differentness. Other begets other as each group reinvents itself. Reinvention carries with it hubris, experimentation, fun, fear, challenge and even death.
“Skin” is a two paged lovely tale that juxtaposes life’s dreams of perfection, idealism and happiness versus the truths of cruelty and pain that naturally will occur in the future.
In “Connecticut,” a young doctor has a mental breakdown and goes to live on an island. His wife, daughter, and son remain in their home located in an upscale Connecticut suburb. One day, the son observes his mother in an intimate act with a female neighbor and is not sure what to do with that information though he is sure that they are passionate and in love. His mother’s lover leaves her and he watches his mother grieve. Years later, his father returns home and the mother becomes caretaker for him.
“River Dogs” Â is one of a group of stray dogs that live in tall grasses by a local town dump. The protagonist’s brother is a “stray,” “not right was the term people used for him.” The protagonist feels invisible and out of touch with others, sometimes like an offshoot of his brother. He hears other kids talk about his brother, stories that repulse him or about horrifying acts that his brother is said to have committed. His 23 year-old brother can not hold a job, still hangs around the high school and dates a high school girl. At one point in the book, the young brother tries to make right something that his older brother did. A man turns to him and says, “This has nothing to do with you son.” But ask yourself, doesn’t everything always have to do with your older brother when you’re in high school, especially if your brother is a scary, geeky, freak whose shadow rests over your own?
These stories transported me. I found myself completely immersed whether I was in Texas, Connecticut, or traveling on a plane. I was inside the stories, inside the characters themselves – – of them. I loved this book and can’t wait for Mr. Porter’s next publication. I understand he is under contract for a novel by the Knopf Group. I will be one of the first to pre-order this novel as soon as I can.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 8 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Vintage (January 5, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Andrew Porter|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Other new authors:|