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Coincidence (2013)
J.W. Ironmonger

This book begins with the discovery of a three-year old girl named Azalea, alone at a seaside fairground and goes on to show us that her life is filled with surprising coincidences. When she grows up to be a poetry professor, Azalea herself contacts Thomas Post (aka The Coincidence Man), another professor who analyzes and debunks coincidences using mathematics.

Azalea and Thomas enter into a romantic relationship which is threatened in two ways by the coincidences of Azalea's life. On the one hand, it is a major source of disagreement between the lovers: is life filled with random and meaningless occurrences or is it the fulfillment of some deeper plan? More seriously, Azalea believes that the pattern of her life suggests that she herself will die on June 21 of the very year that they met, a prediction that Thomas is embarrassed to admit he fears.

(quoted from Coincidence)

"I'm an authority on coincidences. So someone will knock on my door, and the next thing I know they'll be telling me about the man they met on holiday who turned out to have been at the same school as their neighbor. Or else they went to buy a car and the person selling it just happened to share the same name as them. I've heard so many of these stories... I'm supposed to be amazed by these stories. But I never am. I always explain that this is the way a random universe works. Sometimes when you throw two dice, you'll throw two sixes. It isn't a coincidence. It's just mathematics. And that's what I always thought. Until one day the person who came and knocked on my door was Azalea. . . Azalea's coincidences seemed to be off the scale. They seemed to define her life. No wonder Azalea thinks that everything happens for a reason. In her universe, that is how it looks."

Judging this book by its cover, I feared that I would find its attempt at mathematically analyzing coincidences to be pathetic and that the promised coincidences would bore me (since, of course, this is a novel and the coincidences are not surprising but rather the plan of the author.) I was wrong on both counts. Post's mathematical discussions were fine and reasonable, including portions of a lecture that he gives to his students. (Although, he is sometimes a bit of a stereotype: smart but seemingly blind to some simple and obvious truths that frustrate his colleague in psychology.) And, I did get caught up in the intriguing coincidences in the life of this one character; her life was like an interesting work of art.

However, if this book was supposed to actually address something deep then I'm afraid either it failed or I missed it. It's discussions of determinism versus randomness and of free will versus a "divine" plan, remained relatively shallow. The only interesting thing that this book added to the discussion (beyond what anyone who thought about it would already have considered) was Azalea's life. And, as we know that her story was just the creation of J.W. Ironmonger, it really does not affect the argument as it applies to the real world. (I almost wish Azalea and Thomas could have realized that they were in a novel, as in Stranger than Fiction, but this book does not take that meta-fictional approach.)

In summary, it is a very nice story about a woman whose life contains some startling coincidences and her romance with a man who loves her but does not want to be startled by them. There is a little math scattered throughout it here and there, and the rational/mathematical approach to probability is certainly one of the two competing themes of the book, but it has nothing particular to add to our understanding of it beyond its use in this lovely work of art.

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Works Similar to Coincidence
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Do the Math: A Novel of the Inevitable by Philip Persinger
  2. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  3. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  4. The Capacity for Infinite Happiness by Alexis von Konigslow
  5. Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda
  6. The Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer
  7. The City of Devi by Manil Suri
  8. The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall
  9. The Wild Numbers by Philibert Schogt
  10. Stay Close, Little Ghost by Oliver Serang
Ratings for Coincidence:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

MotifAcademia, Romance,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)