The Theory of Light and Matter
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The Theory of Light and Matter


Title Details

Pages: 192

Trim size: 5.250in x 8.000in



Pub Date: 10/15/2008

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3209-3

List Price: $34.95


Pub Date: 09/20/2010

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3677-0

List Price: $34.95

The Theory of Light and Matter


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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

These ten short stories explore loss and sacrifice in American suburbia. In idyllic suburbs across the country, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, narrators struggle to find meaning or value in their lives because of (or in spite of) something that has happened in their pasts. In "Hole," a young man reconstructs the memory of his childhood friend's deadly fall. In "The Theory of Light and Matter," a woman second-guesses her choice between a soul mate and a comfortable one.

Memories erode as Porter's characters struggle to determine what has happened to their loved ones and whether they are responsible. Children and teenagers carry heavy burdens in these stories: in "River Dog" the narrator cannot fully remember a drunken party where he suspects his older brother assaulted a classmate; in "Azul" a childless couple, craving the affection of an exchange student, fails to set the boundaries that would keep him safe; and in "Departure" a suburban teenage boy fascinated with the Amish makes a futile attempt to date a girl he can never be close to.

Memory often replaces absence in these stories as characters reconstruct the events of their pasts in an attempt to understand what they have chosen to keep. These struggles lead to an array of secretive and escapist behavior as the characters, united by middle-class social pressures, try to maintain a sense of order in their lives. Drawing on the tradition of John Cheever, these stories recall and revisit the landscape of American suburbia through the lens of a new generation.

Porter's fiction is thoughtful, lucid, and highly controlled. It is especially striking for the strong consistency of vision that is achieved in every story. He has the kind of voice one can accept as universal—honest and grave, with transparency as its adornment.

—Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gilead

I've known of Andrew Porter's genius for ten years. He's a born storyteller. Every page of The Theory of Light and Matter will change something in your life and refresh you. Yet it is an easy read, nothing like classroom lit. He makes his own space instantly and invites you in. Hats off!

—Barry Hannah, author of Airships

If you are anything like me, you will read Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter with the same feeling of simple gratitude that the first readers of Richard Ford's Rock Springs must have experienced twenty years ago: here, you will think, is a true master of the short story, a writer of honesty and plainspoken poetry who knows the human soul in all its light and shadow and harnesses every sentence to the purpose of revealing it.

—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View from the Seventh Layer

[L]ike taking a sip of the clearest mountain spring water: quenching, even though you've had water before . . . With clear, strong prose marked by devious underpinnings, Porter's style is straightforward, his characters careful narrators treading above a murky pool.


The Theory of Light and Matter displays that fine combination of mystery and manners that drove Flannery O'Connor's work and drives all good fiction: mystery over what our behaviors and misbehaviors reveal about us, and manners in the peculiar style or vision by which the author conducts the investigation.

Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review

[A] luminous collection . . . Porter’s use of poetic yet plainspoken language and his thoughtful consideration of the fractured American family place his writing in direct dialogue with the work of John Cheever and Raymond Carver. But Porter is no mere student of these masters. As the ten stories in this luminous collection demonstrate, Porter has his own compelling vision of human longing, loneliness and grief. . . . Porter’s The Theory of Light and Matter is a memorable debut that honors the history of the short story form while blazing a new trajectory all its own.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The narrators of Porter’s Flannery O’Connor Award-winning collection tend to be young and clear-eyed beyond their years as they give voice to the secrets . . . that haunt them. . . . If the events and secrets of these characters’ pasts have not overtaken their lives, then their reverberations still threaten to corrupt the years yet to come. Throughout, Porter shows how love and pain often come hand in hand.

Publishers Weekly


Drake Emerging Writer Award, Drake University


Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, Foreword magazine


Cork City - Frank O'Connor Short Story Award, Munster Literature Centre


Paterson Fiction Prize, Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College


William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, Stanford Univ. Libraries and Saroyan Foundation


Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction, Texas Institute of Letters

About the Author/Editor

ANDREW PORTER's award-winning fiction has appeared in One Story, Epoch, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology and on NPR's Selected Shorts. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has received a variety of fellowships including the 2004 W. K. Rose Fellowship in the Creative Arts, a Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship, and a James Michener-Paul Engle Fellowship from the James Michener/Copernicus Society of America. Porter is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.