Love, In Theory: Ten Stories about Love and Loss

Title: Love, In Theory
Author: E.J. Levy
Publisher: University of Georgia Press (September 15, 2012)
Pages: 224
Rating: 5 stars

Love, In Theory is a literary collection of ten short stories about how love works. Levy touches on all kinds of relationships: married, unmarried, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, older couples, younger couples. All of the stories have a running theme of infidelity (except perhaps the first one).

Levy’s characters attempt to figure out what infidelity means in today’s world. Is it really wrong? Can you still love your partner even if you aren’t monogamous? She hits on a lot of the same questions as books like The Unbearable Lightness of Being (which I think must have inspired some of these stories. There is even a line in the last story about how lightness can feel so heavy and I was like OK, Milan Kundera).

Her characters are smart and insightful and a little lost. Many of them feel disconnected in some way. Maybe they are broken, or maybe they know what they don’t want but not what they do want. At some point in your life you have probably also felt this way. I know I have! I actually just wrote a story for my creative fiction class (I’m takin’ a fiction class, y’all) about it. The brilliant part is that her characters aren’t melodramatic even though they are depressive, which is a fine line to draw.

Let me give you an example of the best comparison that I’ve read in a really long time. My mouth was open in awe  and I wanted to clap. At the end of the first story (my favorite story!), the main character has just lost the first man she has ever really loved and she compares it to a time when she climbed a rock wall. Once she got high enough, she freaked out and froze up. She was calling for help for a long time before anyone came to save her. And even though she knew they were coming and that she was going to be OK eventually, she couldn’t help but be terrified and feel totally alone in the meantime. Man, can Levy craft an ending!

E.J. Levy’s style is very simple but packs a lot of meaning. Her stories taught me so much about writing. We are learning about a bunch of different writing techniques in class, and she made them come alive and make sense.

I LOVED these stories! I find questions about marriage and monogamy fascinating because, although I love romance novels, I’m a little skeptical of the kind of big love that is portrayed in them. That said, Love, In Theory can be rough for an optimist to handle. I found myself wishing the stories were more hopeful. I was expecting literary romance stories, but got something different (and possibly better?). Perhaps there is more universal truth in sadness than in happiness?

About E. J. Levy

E. J. Levy is an award-winning writer. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Best American Essays, The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and Paris Review, among other places, and have earned a Pushcart Prize, a Nelson Algren Award, a scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and twice been named among the year’s 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories, among other honors. She is editor of Tasting Life Twice: Literary Lesbian Fiction by New American Writers (Avon), which won the Lambda Literary Award. This is her fiction debut.

To learn more, visit

E. J.’s Tour Stops

Monday, September 17th: Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, September 18th: Paperspines

Wednesday, September 19th: What She Read …

Thursday, September 20th: A Reader of Fictions

Tuesday, September 25th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles

Wednesday, September 26th: Kind of a Mess

Thursday, September 27th: Picky Girl

Monday, October 1st: missris

Tuesday, October 2nd: Tiffany’s Bookshelf

Thursday, October 4th: Life in Review

Monday, October 8th: Sweet Southern Home

Tuesday, October 9th: Bonjour, Cass!

Wednesday, October 10th: In the Next Room

Friday, October 12th: Book Reviews by Molly

Friday, October 12th: Dreaming in Books

Tuesday, October 16th: Conceptual Reception

Thursday, October 18th: The Mookse and the Gripes

About Natalie Ramm

I read a lot, y'all.
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6 Responses to Love, In Theory: Ten Stories about Love and Loss

  1. EJ Levy says:

    This is a such a smart and cool review–thank you! I wasn’t thinking of Kundera actually (hadn’t read him in ages), but I should have been! Thanks so much for taking time to read LIT with such intelligence and generosity! All best wishes, EJL


  2. Natalie Ramm says:

    I just realized that the title spells LIT (duh!) that makes these stories even more of an English major’s dream! Thanks for commenting :)


  3. Nancy Zafris says:

    Yes, this review does justice to this wonderful collection of stories. You can imagine what it was like for me, the series editor of the Flannery O’Connor award for short fiction (which this book won, I should point out), to read for the first time. Although I didn’t think of it, I like the comparison to Kundera; however, Levy’s characters are very emotionally engaged in their own disconnectedness, unlike Kundera’s characters who, to me, remain disconnected. But both authors share the rare talent for penning sentences of pithy beauty — something that gives a poetic lightness to their heavy insights. Just remarkable writing. Levy’s smart, witty takes left me laughing out loud at many places, even as the stories themselves tend to portray a doomed or compromised love.


  4. trish says:

    Interesting point at the end about there being more universal truth in sadness than in happiness. I think that is a correct statement.

    I used to think that infidelity was black and white, but conversations with a couple of different people have led me to think it’s quite a gray area. In fact, one friend is 80 years old, gay, and allows his partner (who is 20-30 years younger) to keep another partner (who he sees on the wekeends). When he told me this, he was quite pragmatic and said that he will die long before his partner, and he’s glad his partner will have someone else when he passes. That totally blew my mind and is something that I think about often. I think that would be an interesting story to fictionalize and explore.

    Thanks for being on the tour!


  5. Pingback: Fashion Friday: Wearing LOVE SLAVE | BooksAreTheNewBlack

  6. Pingback: E. J. Levy, author of Love, in Theory, on tour September/October 2012 | TLC Book Tours

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