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On the Nature of Human Romantic Interactionby Karl Iagnemma
Synopses & Reviews
On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction
When students here can't stand another minute, they get drunk and hurl themselves off the top floor of the Gehring building, the shortest building on campus. The windows were tamper-proofed in August, so the last student forced open the roof access door and screamed Fuck and dove spread-eagled into the night sky. From the TechInfo office I watched his body rip a silent trace through the immense snow dunes that ring the Gehring building. A moment later he poked his head from a dune, dazed and grinning, and his four nervous frat brothers whooped and dusted him off and carried him on their shoulders to O'Dooley’s, where they bought him shots of Jaegermeister until he was so drunk he slid off his stool and cracked his teeth against the stained oak bar.
In May a freshwoman named Deborah Dailey heaved a chair through a plate glass window on the fifth floor of the Gray building, then followed the chair down to the snowless parking lot, shattering both ankles and fracturing her skull. Later we learned-unsurprisingly–that her act had something to do with love: false love, failed love, mistimed or misunderstood or miscarried love. For no one here, I'm convinced, is truly happy in love. This is the Institute: a windswept quadrangle edged by charm-proofed concrete buildings. The sun disappears in October and temperatures drop low enough to flash-freeze saliva; spit crackles against the pavement like hail. In January whiteouts shut down the highways, and the outside world takes on a quality very much like oxygen: we know it exists all around us, but we can't see it. It's a disturbing thing to be part of. My ex-Ph.D. adviser, who’s been here longer than any of us, claims that the dormitory walls are abuzz with frustration, and if you press your ear against the heating ducts at night you can hear the jangling bedsprings and desperate whimpers of masturbators. Some nights my ex-adviser wanders the subbasement hallways of the Gray building, and screams obscenities until he feels refreshed and relatively tranquil.
I used to be a Ph.D. student, but now my job is to sit all night at a government-issue desk in the TechInfo office, staring at a red TechHotline telephone. The TechHotline rings at three and four a.m., and I listen to distraught graduate students stammer about corrupted file allocation tables and SCSI controller failures. I tell them to close their eyes and take a deep breath; I tell them everything will be all right. The TechInfo office looks onto the quadrangle, and just before dawn, when the sky has mellowed to the color of a deep bruise, the Institute looks almost peaceful. At those rare moments I love my job and I love this town and I love this Institute. This is an indisputable fact: there are many, many people around here who love things that will never love them back.
A Venn diagram of my love for Alexandra looks like this:
My inventory of love is almost completely consumed by Alexandra, while hers is shared by myself and others (or, more precisely: - J - > - M -; $x s.t. xŒ(J«M); $y s.t. yŒJ, yœM; $z s.t. zœJ, zŒM).We live in a cabin next to the Owahee River and the Institute's research-grade nuclear power plant. Steam curls off the hyperboloidal cooling tower and settles in an icy mist on our roof, and some nights I swear I can see the reactor building glowing. Alexandra has ha
Science and romance intermingle in a remarkable debut collection of short fiction that explores the complex mysteries of the human heart in stories that capture the lives of a group of restless, lonely scientists and mathematicians whose own yearnings for true love force them to search for a place in which reason and emotion can coexist. A first collection. Reprint.
Winner of the Paris Review Discovery Prize for best first fiction and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2002, Karl Iagnemma has been recognized as a writer of rare talent. His literary terrain is the world of science, with its charged boundary between the rational mind and the restless heart. In Iagnemma's stories, mathematicians and theoreticians, foresters and doctors, yearn to sustain bonds as steadfast as the equations and principles that anchor their lives. A frustrated academic tries to diagram his troubled relationship with his girlfriend but fails to create a formula for romance. A nineteenth-century phrenologist must reexamine the connection between knowledge and passion when a young con-woman beats him at his own game. A jaded professor dreams endlessly of his two obsessions: a beautiful former colleague and the theorem that made her famous. Inventive, wise, funny, and disquieting, Karl Iagnemma's first collection attests to his spirited imagination and his prodigious literary gifts.
About the Author
Karl Iagnemma’s work has won the Paris Review Plimpton Prize and been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. He is a research scientist in the mechanical engineering department at M.I.T. His collection, On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction, is available from Dial Press Trade Paperbacks.
Table of Contents
On the nature of human romantic interaction — The phrenologist's dream — Zilkowski's theorem — The confessional approach — The Indian agent — Kingdom, order, species — The ore miner's wife — Children of hunger.
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