Every child hears “Once upon a time” and immediately knows that “happily ever after” is on its way. Snow White is woken up with Prince Charming’s kiss. Ariel gets her legs and her man. Cinderella is reunited with her precious glass slipper and her true love. But what happens when you wander off into your own once upon a time, only to find that Cinderella’s other shoe has dropped on your head? Suddenly you’re sitting on the commuter train, heading into another Monday of sucking down crappy coffee in that tiny office it took you five years of making copies and running office lunch orders to get promoted to.
Now you’re thinking happily ever after might just be for fairy tales after all.
The title of Steven Gillis’ collection of short stories – The Law of Strings and Other Stories – couldn’t be more fitting. In Gillis’ fifteen tales, he examines the human condition through relationships with a keen eye for philosophical musings and theories of quantum mechanics. Some of the scenes Gillis paints for us verge on ridiculous but he handles the whimsy well. In the end, however, the stories are not about the plots: in each story, Gillis writes tragic characters who want nothing more than to be understood by and relate to others, even though numerous obstacles continuously prevent them from doing so. Using humor, absurdity, and scientific theories, Gillis illustrates the contradictory nature of relationships: how all humans seem to want is to connect to others and yet such a connection among such complex creatures is almost impossible. We all grasp at these metaphorical “strings” to tether us together while the world tries its hardest to pull us apart.