So you’ve written a novel called “The Geometry of Love.” Sounds like a love story.
That’s right, it is.
What does geometry have to do with love?
There’s a love triangle in the story that turns into another love triangle. The protagonist, Julia, has to choose between two men. Then the man she longs to be with has to choose between her and another woman. So there are two connected triangles, as it were.
Is that why there’s a picture of a triangular building on the cover of the book?
Yes. That’s the landmark Flatiron Building in Lower Manhattan that you see in the background of the photo. In the foreground are two lovers holding hands, seen from the back as they walk through the park toward the apex of the building.
Triangulated love — a theme with a long tradition behind it, right?
Going all the way back to King Arthur and back even further. Except that in the modern era the obstacles tend not to be rule of court or law but internal, psychological.
As the story opens, Julia is a 32-year-old poet with writer’s block living with her boyfriend, an even-tempered professor named Ben, who offers her both emotional and financial stability. She becomes attracted to a moody, charismatic composer, named Michael, who catalyzes her creativity, makes her feel more alive, but also offers more of a roller-coaster ride. But the story is about more than the choice between security and passion. Julia is also on a quest for financial autonomy, which she sacrificed when she decided to follow Ben as he pursued his academic career. So there’s another choice she has to make¾between relationship itself and independence.
Which love stories inspired you in writing this book?
I was very influenced by Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, in which the staid Newland Archer has to choose between his conventional fiancée, May, and her cosmopolitan, sexually experienced cousin, Ellen Olenska. Wharton was herself working in a long tradition of the French novel of adultery, most famously exemplified by Madame Bovary. There’s a theme in these stories that still feels fresh today: the power of love to challenge convention, present moral dilemmas, and expand one’s emotional range and cultural horizons. I also love movies with relationship triangles. I’ve savored and dissected “Philadelphia Story” and “Runaway Bride” a dozen times. Both these films present women who need to know themselves before they can choose a mate. The Julia Roberts character in “Runaway Bride” has so little sense of self as the movie opens that her favorite way of cooking eggs invariably coincides with her current boyfriend’s.
How do you like your eggs?
Poached, on an English muffin, with a little strawberry jam on the side.
So does Julia, metaphorically speaking, finally figure out how she likes her eggs?
Without offering a spoiler, I’ll say that yes she does, but the resolution is bitter-sweet.
Speaking of sensual pleasures, “The Geometry of Love” contains a number of pretty hot sex scenes. Do you have any advice for someone writing a sex scene for a literary novel?
The scene will hopefully shed light on the quality and tenor of the relationship. In Julia’s one-night stand with an old friend, the tone is light, almost comic. They’re in a Volkswagen bus and a goat, emblem of Pan, interrupts the proceedings at one point. With her boyfriend, the sex is pleasurable, yet predictable. And so forth. I’m more interested in the psychological aspects of sex¾what people think and feel about it during, before, and after¾than I am in which body part goes where. In the end, sex performs an emotional transaction between two human beings. What that transaction is, whether it’s satisfying or disappointing, how we anticipate or remember it, are all questions that fascinate me.
What are the ingredients of a good love story?
Someone once said, about romantic comedy movies, that the audience needs to want to sleep with either the male or the female lead (or, depending on your gender preference, maybe both). In other words, the main characters need to be both lovable and desirable. One of the greatest compliments paid to “The Geometry of Love” came from a friend of mine, who said about Michael, “He’s a real hunk!”
He’s not your typical hunk, though, is he?
(Laughing). No, he isn’t. He’s slouched and unkempt and forgets to shave, but he’s also creative and complicated and sensitive and all that good stuff that turns many women on.
Can you tell us what’s up next?
My next novel takes the reader to Rome for an Italian tale of passion, betrayal, and intrigue.
Sounds like fun.
Thanks. I think it will be.
JESSICA LEVINE’s stories, essays, poetry, and translations have appeared in many journals, including Green Hills Literary Lantern,
North American Review, The Southern Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review. She earned her Ph.D. in English at the University
of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Delicate Pursuit: Literary Discretion in Henry James and Edith Wharton (Routledge, 2002)
and has translated several books from French and Italian into English. She lives in the Bay Area. Her website is jessicalevine.com.