Discoveries: ‘The Theory of Light and Matter’ by Andrew Porter

The Theory of Light and Matter

Andrew Porter

Vintage: 180 pp., $14 paper

In Andrew Porter’s stories, things happen. Of course, you say, things happen, but Porter builds his words around them. There is a wave-like movement in each story, a swelling toward the event and an ebbing toward the new future after the event. In “Hole,” the narrator’s friend, 11, falls down the hole in the driveway and dies; there’s a 13-year-old boy, in “Coyotes,” whose angry father makes him watch his mother in mid-infidelity through the window of her office; an exchange student in “Azul” almost dies while in the care of an irresponsible couple -- Porter is more interested in the buildup than he is in the life after; in some cases the event will lodge, like a splinter, in other’s lives. Porter is in it for the backward glance; he believes we might actually be able, if we look hard enough and study small movements, to predict the future.


A Memoir

Hugues de Montalembert

Atria Books: 126 pp., $21.99

How we underestimate the many forms of violence! In 1978, Hugues de Montalembert interrupted two thugs robbing his apartment. When they saw there was no money, he remembers, their actions turned ugly. “While I was fighting with the big one,” he recalls, “the little one threw paint remover in my face.” His eyesight dissolved almost immediately: “By the morning I was blind.” During rehabilitation, Montalembert learned new ways of seeing. He describes this process with a beautiful, grace-filled simplicity. After seven months, he felt confident enough to walk alone in the street. He memorizes the textures of Madison Avenue -- the curbs, the rubber matting in front of the Carlyle Hotel. And then he began traveling everywhere -- Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Greenland -- to “confront myself with a visually violent landscape, to force my brain to see.” Memories take on new visual qualities. “At times I am afraid,” he writes, “that the memory I have of the visible world will disappear little by little, to be replaced by an abstract universe of sound, smell, and touch.” Montalembert believes in destiny. “Invisible” has a purity, a clarity that is truly inspiring.

The Way of the World

Nicolas Bouvier

Translated from the French by Robyn Marsack

New York Review Books: 308 pp., $16.95 paper

Twenty-four in 1953, Nicolas Bouvier and his friend Thierry Vernet took the grand tour of Eastern Europe in a broken-down Fiat. They started in Geneva and headed for the Khyber Pass. “The Way of the World,” based on Bouvier’s journal entries, was first published in 1985. Bouvier, a writer and photographer, died in 1998. He was, first and foremost, a master traveler, and the tips he offers have not lost their usefulness. “Let me briefly digress on the subject of fear,” he writes. “There are such moments in traveling when it arises, and the bread you are chewing sticks in your throat. When you are over-tired, or alone for too long, or are let down for a moment after a burst of enthusiasm, it can take you unawares as you turn a corner, like a cold shower.” Or: “I’ve always kept something absurd to say to myself when things go wrong.” Just a phrase, he writes, to make you laugh out loud and disarm the bureaucrats holding your passport. The writing has that delightful courtliness, a sense of space and time and a road stretching out. Hidden in the subtext is a lesson in how to soak in the moment, any moment, anywhere.