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September 20, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Released earlier this month, Love, In Theory is a collection of 10 short fiction stories. Author E.J. Levy, a former MU assistant professor of creative nonfiction, divulges her inspiration behind the collection and her upcoming project.
You’ve worked a lot with essays and nonfiction. Why did you decide to make the switch to fiction for this book?
I published nonfiction first, but I would say that fiction came when I went to graduate school. So it’s not actually a switch. I just think that they are very different modes of creation for me. Different subjects draw me to nonfiction or to fiction depending often on whether I am bearing witness or trying to emotionally emphasize my way into understanding or if I am trying to reason my way into it.
Your writing is so realistic. What would you say to anyone that questions the fact that it’s fiction?
In my experience, when people read nonfiction they tend to think you’re making it up. They’re, like, looking for the lie. But when they read fiction, they say, “Is this a thinly veiled autobiography?” I’m not sure what that says, but I do the same thing.
What was your inspiration behind this book?
The great writing teacher John Gardner (author of The Art of Fiction) said that basically university life could not lend itself to literature because it was too filled with the petty and filled with the inconsequential. … So it was, in a way, that I was speaking to John Gardner’s challenge because I think he’s wrong. It’s like saying love is categorical, and I don’t think it is. I think we can give ourselves labels, as like gay or straight or whatever, but the heart of love is love.
Of the 10 short stories, can you pick a favorite?
My two favorites are the first story I ever wrote, “Theory of Transportation,” which is not a very cheerful story. It is about a guy dying of AIDS and a woman telling her friend about this guy dying of AIDS, and she sort of takes over the story as a way of trying to escape her own life. So it’s about stories as much as it is about friendship and varieties of love.
The other one that is my favorite, that, again, I don’t think is anyone else’s favorite, is about “The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota.” Because it is based on an actual experiment that was done in Michigan by a psychiatrist who was trying to cure three delusional men who all thought they were Jesus Christ by bringing them together. It was the last story my father told me before he died. My father spent his whole life telling me, “You should write this; it would make a good story,” and I never wrote anything he told me to write. And so I love that story. I would probably say “Three Christs” is my favorite of all of them because it is my father’s, in a way.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a historical novel based on an actual 19th-century physician who intrigued both (Mark) Twain and Charles Dickens. I’m really interested in how much that period determined the times after the 19th century. I think a lot of the issues of religion and politics and human rights now are oddly very similar.