The Law of Strings is the most recent collection of short stories from Steven Gillis. The tales quickly wrap themselves around you and make you realize that nothing should be taken for granted and that in our seemingly ordered world, ruled by natural forces, anything is possible. The stories range from vaguely familiar to borderline surreal. The characters, at times, come off as dreary, but Gillis draws the reader in with his superb dialogue. In the opening story, What We Wonder When Not Sure, the topic of conversation is never revealed, but is captivating nonetheless:
“Do you suppose?” Evenshare asks me.
“Yes, I do,” I answer. “Often.”
“Then there’s a chance, here I mean?” he seems encouraged. I don’t wish to disappoint and so I say, “There’s always that.”
Evanshare glances around, wants to know, “Who should we ask?”
“Which one do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then suppose anyone will do.”
“But how can that be?”
“How can’t it?”
Evanshare frowns. “I thought you said there was someone here who might help us.”
“I did.” I’d hate for him to believe otherwise. “I know for a fact I said it.”
As the title of the book suggests, there are stories that lead us to the intersection where people and physics meet. In the title story, The Law of Strings, a woman has her lover tie her to her bed:
Lange tries to persuade her again to go outside, describes the weather as sunny and warm, but Eva doesn’t care. She reminds him how poorly yesterday went, how he needs to stop asking her to undo the ropes, repeats much of what she’s said the last two days, argues again about gravity and the law of strings.
Lange touches his lips, dry against the heat, is frustrated, focuses now on better arguments, insists that gravity is more than a restraint, that ordinary matter establishes its own gravitational pull and creates favorable attractions. “You and me,” he moves his hands forward and back, tries closing the space between them, says people are attracted naturally.
“Right,” Eva wonders if Lange knows what he’s saying. She thinks about the calls made and unreturned, about what’s natural and what isn’t.
My favorite story, Exhibitions, is a cryptic piece about a man whose wife, a sculptor, has disappeared without explanation:
She kept the larger ones in kettle jars, let them float like honey combs, these silver dolls made buoyant on waters mixed with a slight trace of silicon and lemon jello. For a time, before the galleries called and wished to show, my wife stored the newest in our apartment, the jars and tanks lined up. All of these were eventually moved to the studio my wife rented on West 23rd, where she worked long hours perfecting her creation.
This morning I woke from the strangest dream. My wife and I were standing in front of an enormous window, in a restaurant dining room several stories above a beach overlooking the sea; the water blue and clear with long-drawn waves creating hair-thin strings of white caps. My wife was drinking a very large glass of wine, the stem stretched like a crane’s neck, requiring her to hold on with both hands. The room was otherwise empty. Just before dusk my wife finished her wine, set the glass down — the rim stood as high as my chest — and said, “I’d like another,” then proceeded to slip serpentine over the rim into the glass and vanish. As I woke and rolled on the bed to tell my wife what a queer dream I’d had, I found she wasn’t there.
Each story moves swiftly and many evoke a feeling of tension, often left unresolved. As I finished one story, I eagerly went to the next, looking forward to what Gillis would reveal about the world in which we all live and the people and mysterious natural forces with which we interact.