On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction Hardcover – Apr 29 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
The meticulousness of science and mathematics is applied to the mysteries of love in Iagnemma's debut collection, which features eight complex, multilayered stories in which protagonists try to balance the demands of the heart against their need for rational, orderly thinking. The title story introduces a young academic who tries to formulate a series of mathematical equations he can use to force his willful, libidinous girlfriend to make a commitment to him. Some of the stories are period pieces. In "The Phrenologist's Dream," a 19th-century phrenologist falls in love with a former female client who seduces him and then makes off with his valuable set of skulls. In "Zilkowski's Theorem," a pair of Boston mathematicians vie for the attention of the same woman, then end up betting their professional future on the outcome of a Red Sox game. An idealistic, creative young couple find their dreams humorously compromised in "The Confessional Approach," one of the few stories that abandons the science theme; impending poverty forces the couple to sell the woman's finely crafted wooden mannequins to the owner of a shooting range, where they become targets for gun hobbyists. Elegant, witty and concise, Iagnemma's stories precisely capture the hopelessly imprecise nature of love.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Iagnemma, a research scientist at MIT, is a rising star among short story writers, having won both a Pushcart Prize and a coveted spot in last year's Best American Short Stories [BKL S 15 02]. His debut collection explores the places where faith, love, and science all intersect. In "Zilkowski's Theorem," a mathematician deliberates revealing a secret that could boost his career at the expense of the reputation of the woman he loves. In "The Phrenologist"s Dream," set in the nineteenth century, a traveling phrenologist has his heart stolen (along with his collection of porcelain skulls) by a beautiful, hairless woman. In the moving story "The Ore Miner's Wife," a naive Christian bride, fearing a moral lapse on the part of her husband, destroys papers that contain his potentially important geometrical theories. And in "Kingdom, Order, Species," a female forester resorts to breaking and entering in order to meet the reclusive author of an introductory textbook on botany; she hopes the encounter may offer answers to why her love life and career never seem to blossom. These intelligent, quirky, and suspenseful stories offer proof of Iagnemma's stunning talent. James Klise
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Iangemma is perfectly qualified for writing stories using these themes; he works as a robotics researcher at MIT by day, and writes short-stories after-hours. His writing talents have been praised and published in prestigious literary journals. Nevertheless, his writing shows that he is clearly part techie. For an engineer like myself, it's refreshing to read someone who knows the science/technological mindset from the inside, and weaves touches of that sensibility into fine set of well-told stories.
However, make no mistake - this isn't science fiction - it's fiction about scientists. For example, in the title story (my personal favorite) the narrator, a "failed engineer," describes the Venn diagrams and coupled sets of differential equations he's created in attempts to describe his love for his girlfriend. Another favorite story of mine, "Children of Hunger" hasn't been mentioned often in reviews here; in it, a medical researcher in a stale marriage asks his lonely wife to make a key sacrifice to further his research, leading to an ending with a clever twist.
Overall, the stories tilt slightly towards the illuminating the human heart rather than exalting the scientific mind. Nevertheless, Iagnemma's characters do discover something -- the emotional texture of their lives outside the lab, and Iagnemma tells their stories in a way few others have. Recommended.
I spied the book tossed on some shelf in disease section of Barnes & Noble. I carried it over to the cafe to browse through it.
The first sentence of the title story hooked me and the rest delivered as promised. I read straight, in one sitting, the story about an engineering student trying to woo his ex-advisor's daughter into marriage.
It was clear, well-paced and cleverly constructed. I felt relieved that even engineering students and mathematicians try to rationalize "love" and "romance" into theorems and predictable equations, not only us lesser analytic "mortals." The narrator was charming, the love interest a little fuzzy, but that's okay. It was fun!
I learned tonight that scientists can have a sense of humor, too.
I plan to keep track of this fellow and definitely, capture another glimpse of his book at B & N.
He's carving himself a special niche, right aside the surgeon/physicians writers group.
And here's more: none of the stories in this collection disappointed me. I'm a picky reader. At first, I thought Karl's stories attracted me because he and I have something in common: we both are scientists trained at MIT (though I didn't know him), and we both are writers. Soon I realized it's the in-depth portrayal of human nature that resonates the most. In his story "Zilkowski's Theorem", a mathematician writes his girlfriend's Ph.D dissertation. He does it for love. But after his girlfriend is converted to a new religion and becomes another man's finance, she wants to be "honest" and publicize the fact that the dissertation wasn't hers.Read more ›
What a versatile writer and story teller. I think you will really like this book if you go in without any preconceived notions. And, of course, if you are a hopeless romantic and like Tom Robbins writing style.
Most recent customer reviews
A disappointing collection of paint-by-numbers short stories. The collection is about half contemporary academia grad-student romances and half odd-ball Victorian historical... Read morePublished on April 3 2004
Mr. Iagnemma's book is filled with a wit and intelligence unlike anything you will read again.
He has the market cornered on humorous stories about scientists' love foibles. Read more
Karl Iagnemma is an amazing writer as this debut book reflects. His natural talent and ability to create characters that appear to be so real allow the reader to connect with each... Read morePublished on June 1 2003
These stories are extended meditations with no shortage of action. The language, the geography, the history - all of it's filtered beautiful through Karl's sharp lense. Read morePublished on May 14 2003 by Bryan Farrow
The best collection released this year, by a longshot. The stories are beautifully written, funny, and wrenching. And every single piece kicks ... Read morePublished on May 9 2003 by Steven B. Almond
Karl Iagnemma is a research scientist in the mechanical engineering department at MIT, but in his spare time he writes incredibly enjoyable stories about Ph.D. Read morePublished on May 5 2003 by Kenneth Goldstein