a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Problems (1979)
John Updike
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

What might otherwise be a standard short story about a man who regrets leaving his wife for his lover is recast by this famous author as a list of math homework problems. In one problem, where the man is labeled "A", his lover in bed next to him is called"B" and his wife about whom he has just dreamed is "C", we are asked who he has wronged more, B or C? Another question, which describes the relative locations of his laundry and his psychiatrist, has us thinking about whether he has the time to do both. Unlike many such "experimental" works of fiction, this one still seems to retain its emotional potency. In fact, it may even be enhanced by its imitation of a problem set, since it forces the reader to actively consider the difficult situation posed and try to come up with "an answer".

Charles Yu's much more recent Problems for Self Study is very similar, but more mathematical in that the character being described is himself a mathematician. In fact, though I think it is a fine work of fiction and I am grateful to Dr. David Taub for bringing this story to my attention, I am giving Updike's Problems a very low "mathematical content" rating since there really is no math here, only the familiar cadence of list of word problems.

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Works Similar to Problems
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Book of Knut: a novel by Knut Knudson by Halvor Aakhus
  2. Problems for Self-Study by Charles Yu
  3. Continuity by Buzz Mauro
  4. Rough Strife by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
  5. Villages by John Updike
  6. Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda
  7. Mobius Strip by Cho-Se Hui
  8. Stay Close, Little Ghost by Oliver Serang
  9. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  10. In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman
Ratings for Problems:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (2 votes)

MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)