Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Review: Do The Math A Novel of The Inevitable

Title: Do The Math
Author: Philip Persinger
Genre: Lit Romance
Price: $16.15
Paperback: 266 pages
Publisher: IUniverse (April 14, 2008)
ISBN: 978-0595469888
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: What could be worse than losing the love of your life? Getting her back! William Teale is a brilliant professor of mathematics. His theory of inevitability posits that any human action, no matter how insignificant, might result in a disproportionately huge calamity. His wife, Virginia "Faye" Warner, is a world-famous romance novelist who specializes in reuniting soul mates after a tragic and prolonged separation. According to her math, "one past and two hearts plus one love equals four-ever." The Teale-Warner marriage is a thing of geometric and artistic perfection, a melding of the heart and the brain-amour and algebra. But when Faye's ghostwriter suffers a nervous breakdown and shakes all the arrows out of Cupid's quiver, Faye reintroduces her husband to love. Unfortunately, it's not with herself, but with the woman William had loved and lost years ago. Love is about to clash with inevitability, and it's unclear which will emerge victorious. Told in the off-beat voice of William's graduate intern, Roger, Do the Math reveals the curious relationship between logic and love and the delightful consequences of taking a chance.

It’s 1978 and enter Roger ... college student, aspiring mathematician, and like most kids his age, he is lost. Yes, Roger would agree that he went very wrong in probability and statistics, so wrong that the active living of his life consists of eavesdropping on a world he has no real stake in. Our narrator is more or less a voyeur. Like most romance readers, they sit back and watch the tragic-comedy that is love unfold before their very eyes, only in this instance, like in The Great Gatsby, our voyeur actually narrates the story and becomes an unwitting participant in the events as they unfold. To begin, at the suggestion of his college advisor, Roger attempts to procure and intern position with a Mr. William Teale, said advisor’s old college roommate and a professor of mathematics at Hudson Polytechnic who is known to be rather eccentric, having not yet come to grips with his tragic failure in front of the Comstock review board earlier in his career. Teale, after the failure of his paper, had lost all will to dream and live big, settling instead for teaching the same curriculum for twenty years. But all that comes to an enlightening end when Roger rather deftly uses Teal’s theory of “Significant Inconsequentiality” to exact a meeting with the Professor at the Philadelphia airport. The meeting doesn’t end quite as Roger would have wanted. Actually, Roger wasn’t even aware that the meeting had ended until he had been sitting on a bench for a while. But happenstance happens, whether you are aware of it or not. Times passes briefly with Roger making an attempt at thoughts for the future when out of the blue he receives a mysterious letter extending an offer for the intern position with the subsequently written-off Professor Teal. So off Roger goes to New Coventry, where he is tasked with being a spy for a romance novel fan club, a frazzled professor’s intern, and a nurse-maid to Teal’s wife: the most famous American Romance Novelist Virginia “Faye” Warner, who reminded me of Joan Wilder with a severe case of agoraphobia, a rather abrasive self-centred personality disorder , and a dash of egomania thrown in for good measure. Yes, she isn’t the most polite and easy-going person, nor is she even remotely likable. We find out how unlikable she is when her ghost writer, Ambrose, after years of dealing with her, suffers a breakdown and can no longer write romance. Well, he refuses to write romance in general, but specifically for her. Teal attempts to assist his wife in her moment of crisis, but makes a terrible hiring decision and suffers the degradation and the emotional devastation that comes along with it.

This is what I would call a True Romance: sharp, witty, and filled with an irony only True Love can claim as its own. I can’t reveal too much about the plot-line for fear of ruining the story, but we have some essential elements: the brilliant academic who has lost his self-esteem and his faith; the shrew of a wife who overcompensates for her handicaps by bashing the shit out of everyone around her; the innocent narrator caught in the middle who tries desperately NOT to put two and two together; and the fan club members -- headed by a Mrs. Slocum, fan-fic writer extraordinaire -- who are doing the wrong things for the right reason, even if they have no idea that their platform is a farce. The fact that the Fan club is petitioning for their favourite woman romance writer to be included in the literary curriculum at New York College, Poughkeepsie is hilarious considering that the author hasn’t written her own books since the first one and that her ghost writer is a man. Even she declares rather adamantly that the genre isn’t about Love, it’s about romance and there is a script. With that notion firmly planted in his head, Teal is convinced he can discover the mathematical formula, so he sets off to log in time at the campus’s computer while his wife opts for cutting and pasting from her backlist. Now this is 1978, so the computer takes up a huge basement room, and cutting and pasting takes scissors and tape. But they plod on, and Teal eventually proves his own premise, which he calls The Deferred Premise Principle [...] “You must have a premise by the end of the whole mess or it makes no sense at all.” Of course he doesn’t know he has literally proved it yet when he makes that statement.

Now I didn’t “get” a lot of the math humour, but it really didn’t matter or take away from the enjoyment of the story. I was told by the author that the “math” was 95% made up, so after hearing that, I didn’t feel as if I was left out of an inside joke. As for the characters, aside from Warner, they are all just lovable victims of happenstance to some degree or another, so they all compliment and repel each other at the same time. Life is known for its irksome set of variables, and so the characters just roll with it, clumsily so, but they do. Real life -- true love -- is not ruled by convention, even if we would like it to be sometimes. That said, the story did not run roughshod over the romance genre. Sure it plays with the conventions of 1978 romance writing a bit, but it isn’t extravagant in its absurdist view. Its premise is subtle, and the approach gently hints at the outcome throughout the story without coming off as predictable or overly exposed. There was no chop, not in the storyline, in the character development, or in the actual writing. The approach was minimalist, the humour was academically dry, and in some cases, our narrator is just witnessing a scene from afar, and so disconnected from the conversation, we have to make all the assumptions on our own. I really thought the technical use of distance was well-played and intriguing, as was the remarkably clean edit.

I suppose what I loved most about the book, besides its satirical look at the romance genre, was the mathematical juxtaposition we were presented with: The Predictability of Romance versus the Unpredictability and the Inevitability or rather The Significant Inconsequentiality of Love. That, to me, was the essence of the story. Happily ever after doesn’t necessarily come easy, and it certainly doesn’t come as expected. This story had real heart and soul, and while the ending may not have been Happily Ever After in the traditional fairytale sense of the phrase, it mirrored real life to perfection by showing that even if you get slightly derailed in life, there is always an opportunity to fix the mistakes and find happiness, even if the opportunity might seem inconsequential at first glance.


This book was purchased by the reviewer in Epub format from the Sony Reader Store.


brizmus said...

true romance with math humour! So a book for me. I'm sad to hear, though, that so much of the math was made up. :-(

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Well, if it was fake, it read real to me.