The Theory of Light & Matter

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

A gay Mexican exchange student comes to blows with his disturbed lover and loses. A young man obsessed with an Amish girl witnesses a fatal fight and is forever changed. A woman recounts the story of her physics professor, whom she still longs for even though she went on to marry her college sweetheart. Here are but a few of the men and women you meet in Andrew Porter’s exquisite debut collection, The Theory of Light & Matter.

The author, who is from Lancaster, sets his stories mainly in rural Pennsylvania. Like the hilly, turbulent terrain he describes, the characters in The Theory often find themselves in untenable, if not violent, situations. Take this from “Departure”: “Someone finally used a two-by-four to knock him out. It was an unnecessarily hard blow and even today I do not know which of the kids delivered it. His head split open near the hairline.”

Replete with such awful moments, The Theory is a collection in which every story builds to a defining and defiant act. Yet this is never the final moment. The point comes later, after the blood is cleaned and the bodies removed. Porter is obsessed with what comes next, the haunting his characters endure long after the tragedies subside. A rubbernecker with a gimlet eye, he makes his first-person narratives about the ways his characters struggle to pinpoint what went wrong in their lives. There are no literary pyrotechnics here, no metafictional devices, just good old-fashioned storytelling. But even at their most straightforward, the stories have a hard-won grit and imagination to spare. Porter, with a steady eye, excavates the subtler side of misfortune, and in the process delivers horror and constant delight.

By Andrew Porter. University of Georgia, $24.95.