The stories in Frank Soos’s Unified Field Theory are dark concoctions, stories of (mostly) men descending into their own wreckage. Alice Munro’s influence—if she wrote stories of men aging rather than women coming of age—is strong and there are more than a few hints of Flannery O’Connor’s sly edge. But Soos’s voice is his own, characterized by a sharp eye for detail and an exceptional calmness that seems to come from a place beyond indifference and detachment…a place of writerly enlightenment as poised as his eccentric, seeking characters are not.
There are practical ways to measure how much I like a book: do I keep it? Do I seek out the hardback edition? Is it all marked up in my idiosyncratic system of symbols and illegible marginalia? Am I spurred to find the rest of the author’s work? Have many sections made their way to my commonplace book? Will I give copies to friends? Yes to all of these.
Side note: I tend to be irrationally and presumptively dismissive of writers and artists I know…witnessing them engaged in the mundane routines of daily life interferes with my subconscious’s stubborn insistence that those possessing real talent live on some different inaccessible plain. Back when I thought I might have some talent, I took a couple of creative writing classes from Frank (he was an exceptionally generous teacher; I was an exceptionally pedestrian student). I see him occasionally at the coffee shop or the post office. As a result I waited far too long to read Unified Field Theory assuming, wrongly, that Soos couldn’t really be a first-rate writer. I’m rarely happy to have been so wrong.