2014 · 4 stars · fiction

Bookstore Browsing: The Theory of Light & Matter

Before I started blogging, the majority of my book purchases were books I discovered while browsing. I have NO shame in admitting I totally judge covers and pretty books stand out. Some of these books have ended up being some of my all-time favorite novels and I miss those days when I would simply wander through the aisle and see what I could find. Lately I’ve made a conscious effort to do more browsing – trust me, it’s seriously a struggle to not immediately launch my goodreads app and see what the ratings are like!

Andrew Porter’s The Theory of Light and Matter immediately struck my interest and I wish I could find a better image of the cover I have: a kitchen light shines into the night, illuminating a bicycle in the driveway. Something about it stood out and I was charmed.

Digging into this near-nothing of a novel – it’s a whole 178 pages long! – I discovered it was a short story collection, something completely new to me. I’m all about branching out and being adventurous in my reading, so naturally I leapt at the chance to read it..I also cheated a little and looked it up on GR – it has a 4.25 rating! That a book of this length has such a high rating spoke volumes and I easily devoured these ten stories in a single sitting. The Theory of Light and Matter won Porter the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and now I’m very interested in taking a look at the other winners!

While reading (and even now that I’ve finished) I wasn’t entirely sure if these stories were semi-biographical or not. Other than one, coincidentally it’s the title story, each story is told from a male perspective and although he’s at various stages of his life – some stories take place in childhood, others feature an adult – I couldn’t tell if this was the same figure or not (more often than not his name is Alex). If a sibling is mentioned in the story, it’s always an older sister. Though the father’s job changes, the fact that he’s largely absent remains the same.

The earlier stories, Azul; Coyotes; Hole; all seem to end just as they’re hitting their stride. I don’t know if this was intentional on Porter’s part or not, but it certainly left me wanting more. What happened to Azul? Was he alright? What became of Alex’s father and their fractured family? Over just a few pages I found myself becoming invested in these stories, genuinely curious and concerned for these characters and the abrupt endings left me feeling empty.

From Amish communities to sleeping with professors to a fiance stranded in Spain, The Theory of Light and Matter took me on a journey. A young boy dead after falling into a sinkhole and survivor’s guilt. A childless couple hoping to fill a void by opening their home to an exchange student. A son walking in on his mother’s forbidden affair. While I couldn’t exactly relate to many of these characters, I found them all fascinating. The Theory of Light and Matter is a thrilling display of talent and I’ve overjoyed that I decided to take a chance on it! Looking to get lost for an hour or two? This is the perfect escape.

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