From The CR: Word Problem

Cincinnati Review Managing Editor Nicola Mason introduces a new selection from the award-winning literary journal, Margaret M. Luongo's "Word Problem."

Recently one of our staff wrote a funny intro on our blog claiming that creative writers are afraid of science. Well, Andrea Barrett may object to that claim. And Joanna Scott. And John Banville. And Alan Lightman . . . Actually, it turns out writers love science. What they hate---with an animus as deep and churning as the earth’s molten core---is MATH.

That’s what I thought, anyway, until I read Margaret Luongo’s “Word Problem,” which presents as one of those tricky standardized-test solvables: First there’s the section that sets up the scenario, then a series of questions about said scenario that you, the test-taker, must answer.

In the case of “Word Problem,” Luongo herself provides these answers (whew!). The twist is that the “problem” aspect of the story involves . . . people: specifically a mixed-bag of music students at a nationally acclaimed academy. And while Luongo initially describes these students in the dry, factual non-style of the traditional word problem, what creeps into the narrative---despite the analytical thrust inherent in the story’s structure---is heart.

It is there in the questions this author posits---which are surprises in and of themselves---and in the answers that transform our surprise into a kind of wry wonder. This “Word Problem” is not about cold logic, but about the gifts we are given, the forces that shape us, and the mystery at our centers that defies the cut-and-dried solution.


Read the full story at The Cincinnati Review.

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