Jerry Levy’s quirky narratives provide a high-spirited alternative perspective on the crushing emotional isolation and myriad pressures that often accompany modern urban life. The fourteen stories in The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness, Levy’s follow-up to his 2013 collection Urban Legend, also frequently stretch the boundaries of narrative plausibility and occasionally veer into pure fantasy.
A Diverse Cast of Characters
Levy’s diverse cast of characters includes children and men and women in various age groups, but in his most satisfying and fully realized stories, his protagonists tend to be men in their thirties or forties, aimless and living alone, out of shape, lacking confidence, who have lost their jobs, or else married and cracking under the stress of daily life. The yearning for companionship and romance is a recurring theme, driving characters into states of desperation and despair or to extreme behaviour.
At the sight of a woman on the subway reading a book about time travel, the anxious and unhappily married narrator of “Paris was the Rage” finds himself gripped by memories of an earlier time in his life when creativity and intellectual curiosity were actively encouraged. Longing for his old college girlfriend and intellectual sparring partner, Claire, he tracks down her number and phones her, but lacks the nerve to speak to her. In desperation he parks on the street outside her house and watches for her, hoping to “accidentally” bump into her. Finally, after failing at this too, he writes a poem, which seems to grant him the strength and resolve to make changes to his life of mind-numbing tedium.
Unemployed Ashton, in “Butterfly Dreams,” has kept the key to his girlfriend’s apartment after their breakup and amuses himself by going in when she and her new boyfriend are absent, messing with them by stealing inconsequential items and leaving behind odd mementos that they will discover and find perplexing. And in “Grotesque,” lonely, self-centred Nathan Mandelbaum has captured a frighteningly ugly creature that had taken refuge in the ravine behind his house. Deciding it must be a “fallen angel,” he schemes to become rich by charging people to look at it. All goes according to plan for a few days as people line up for a glimpse. But Nathan surprises himself by growing attached to the creature, and when his scheme fails because of his own incompetence, he suffers unaccustomed regret and begins to re-evaluate himself and his actions. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#f14e58″ class=”” size=””]Levy has a knack for delivering the unexpected: a knock-out punch of a plot twist, an unforeseen reversal of fortune, a life-altering revelation.[/perfectpullquote]
Other notable stories feature a boy who refuses to speak and instead communicates by singing (“Starchild”), a man who attends the funerals of people he doesn’t know so he can pick up women (“The Quantum Theory of Love and Madness”), a lonely man and woman who meet at a laundromat but are separated by a cruel twist of fate (“New Year’s at the Laundromat”), and a tightrope walker who suffers a crisis of confidence (“The Underground Circus”).
The humour in Levy’s stories is drawn in very broad strokes and can be outlandish and absurd, in the bustling, frenetic manner of slapstick comedy. The lack of subtlety means that we don’t always connect with Levy’s characters on a visceral or emotional level, but for the most part, the stories remain engaging because Levy has a knack for delivering the unexpected: a knock-out punch of a plot twist, an unforeseen reversal of fortune, a life-altering revelation. These are stories that defy expectations and constantly surprise. Instances of human weakness, folly, bitterness and callousness abound in these pages. But here and there Levy also offers glimmers of hope, that even the lost and solitary among us are not beyond redemption.
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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Grain, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. A new collection of linked stories, Witness, will be published by Porcupine's Quill in spring 2023.