Monday, March 14, 2011

ESLF: Adam Levin

It's time for the next installment in our series of posts about 9L contributors participating in the Early Spring Literary Festival and this time we turn our attention to Adam Levin.

If you haven't heard, Adam Levin has made quite the stir, and rightfully so, in the literary world with his first novel, The Instructions. While the book is over a 1,000 pages that doesn't mean Adam Levin can't write one hell of a short story. His story "A Qualitative Study of Our Father," a collaboration with Christian TeBordo, appeared in the very first issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 1, no. 1). It tells the story of siblings Jimmy and June studying how and, more importantly, why their father kills flies. And it's written in the form of a scientific study complete with hypothesis, methods, and discussion sections. The potential risk of this type of piece is having the form overwhelm the content or for it all to seem a bit gimmicky. If it was nothing but a gimmick, the reading experience would be unsatisfying. A clever idea will only get you so far. However, this is not a problem for "A Qualitative Study of Our Father." What the story does so brilliantly is to marry form and content, so that how the story is told reveals something about the characters, particularly Jimmy and June. They are the kind of smart, practical kids that would examine their father's behavior in such a methodical way. We also learn that this detached approach might be a coping mechanism. Through the design of the form, including the occasional footnote with the title of their previous studies, we are given a complete picture of this family. Danger is in these children's lives. In fact, the conclusions section contains a warning to their baby sister, if she were to ever embark on her own study of their father, "Take caution against the whole business, Jessica. You are not a fly. You are the prettiest little girl." Ultimately, the story offers no easy solutions. A lot of elements are being juggled in the piece, but, as it always does in a great story, it seems effortless. "A Qualitative Study of Our Father" is a rich, compelling read.

Adam Levin is a part of the Ninth Letter reading, along with T.A. Noonan, on Wednesday, March 16 at 2pm in the Author's Corner on the 2nd floor of the Illini Union Bookstore.

Here is an interview with Adam about The Instructions and an essay he wrote about the novel.

And The Instructions book trailer:

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