Just as the name suggests, How They Met and Other Stories is a collection of love stories. Levithan wouldn’t agree with that assessment, preferring the term ‘stories about love’. I don’t think making that distinction was worth his time.
He makes this distinction because his love stories don’t follow the cliche arc. You know know the one, boy meets girl, there’s a complication, and they eventually get together. One story begins at the point of attraction and fizzles away when both parties decide their friendship is too precious to risk. Another story is about about a guy being interviewed for college by his boyfriend’s father, while his boyfriend listens silently in the hallway. The most satisfying story was ‘Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat’, about a lesbian who abandons the idea that only a sexual can provide meaning to her life after her girlfriend cheats on her. That is the point that Levithan comes the closest to agreeing with me, when his protagonist points out that monogamous relationships remain an oppressively ubiquitous theme in popular music and culture. Still, we’re dealing with stories about love. ‘Love stories’ is the easiest way to describe them.
Many of these stories are about the frustrations of American Jewish homosexual young adults. I’ve done some research on Levithan, and come to the conclusion that these stories are vaguely autobiographical. That’s really fair enough, but when a blurb promises a book about ‘all kinds of love’ I expect a bit more variety. Or at least a romance set outside of North America.
An element of sickening sweetness seeps into some of these stories. ‘The Number Of People Who Meet On Airplanes’ is the worst offender. It’s a story about Mr. Schwartz, an airport worker who sets up couples by selling them plane tickets next to each other. (Does that seem ethical to you? I find the concept distinctly unsettling.) A happy husband finds out that his first encounter with his wife was engineered this match-making mastermind, at which point the story nose-dives into the saptastic. I’m tempted to do a fanfiction of this story about Mr. Schwartz’s evil counterpart, who sets up unhappy couples and archrivals. The final scene of that story would be an obese businessman waking up in a plane full of crying babies and the world’s first farting choir.
I consider romance to be the least interesting theme in fiction, so it’s unfair for me to review this book. Levithan is a good writer, with clean prose and believable characterization. I’d probably enjoy his work if he chose a theme that interested me.
And another thing that bothered me about this book was how in the story ‘Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat’, Levithan uses ‘sassed’ as a dialogue for a homosexual character. I really hate the word sassy and all its derivatives, because they tend to be reserved for minority characters who are forthright with their opinions. When was the last time you heard a white heterosexual man described as sassy? It is really is a patronising word, I’d never use it to describe someone I respect. Maybe gay people are happy using it as a descriptor, but I think that I’ll always find it grating.
I’ll also admit that I was biased against the author from the start, because he’s almost called David Leviathan. The eviathan is some kind of impossibly cool biblical sea monster, and compared to that Levithan is just a disappointment. It’d be like if I was called Peter Donsaur.