Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Jerry Levy’s second volume of short stories confirms his status as a challenging and engaging Canadian writer. This latest collection (like his first, Urban Legend, which appeared in 2013) focuses primarily on urban individuals, many of whom are at odds with themselves or in situations of personal stress.
The plots are quirky, and the reader is usually kept a little off-balance, as events seldom take what could be called a linear course. A man discovers a short, ugly creature with wings in his backyard, a fallen angel he is sure. And he decides to exhibit her to the public. A boy doesn’t talk—he only sings—to the consternation of his parents and the firm disbelief of the doctors who treat him. A man preaches from the high wire at the circus. An author suffering from writer’s block meets a street-smart girl, who goads him relentlessly to complete her. Still another spends the days in his former girlfriend’s apartment while she, unaware of this, is at work. At first, he steals little things, then he starts bringing things in, like butterflies.
The title story, “The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness,” is the peak of Levy’s artistry. A man approaches a woman at a funeral. He never knew the deceased—this is how he picks up women. But she is much more than he bargained for. The story twists and turns and ends, as the title suggests, with a theory of the quantum nature of love.
The dimensions of love and belonging appear in most of Levy’s stories, whether it be the mistakes of misguided affection at a laundromat, a little girl’s devotion to her ailing grandfather, or a man trying to care for his unsettled younger brother after both parents are killed in an automobile accident.
At times, Levy’s work has an almost supernatural quality, as he plays with the borders of reality and plausibility. But it works. His characters, no matter what their obsession or peculiarities, are all-too-human, and their trials, despite often being a bit otherworldly, reveal much about the nature of what is concrete and real.
Levy’s stories are riveting just because they constantly catch you off guard. They keep you guessing while at the same time stoking your hunger for more. Each one forces you to view the world, even your world—your expectations, your assumptions about the way things work—somehow differently. And, however unsettling this process may be, these stories are gifts to be cherished.
The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness is published by Guernica Editions.