MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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A House for Living (2020)
Nicolette Polek
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A very short story (not quite two pages) about an insecure mathematician:

(quoted from A House for Living)

The mathematician moves into a glass condominium with fourteen doors and has nightmares about the rooms behind them switching places. Sometimes she opens them to find a rival mathematician sitting on a long velvet couch. The rival has a retentive memory and a svelte build, while the mathematician has neither.

The mathematician is eccentric and makes odd choices:

(quoted from A House for Living)

The mathematician redesigns her staircase so that some steps are very tall and some very short. She supposes this will help exercise her heart, but grows accustomed to the patterns rather quickly and starts tripping down traditional staircases at work. Whenever this happens, the rival always happens to be walking by, eating radishes.

Other strange things in the story either suggest that it takes place in a surreal fictional universe or that the character is going insane:

(quoted from A House for Living)

One morning she touches her head, which throbs, and finds a murky residue. On the pillow beside her is a gray lump, translucent like a cube of gelatin. The mathematician prods it and notices an odor similar to talcum powder. Beneath it is a small stain that is impossible to wash out. Perplexed, she keeps the lump in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

Why is the main character a mathematician? Occasionally she is described as doing math ("She'll...go to the computer to compute something untenable"), but unless I am misinterpreting it, I believe that this story is both a product and a source of the prejudice that mathematicians are neurotic and mentally unstable.

Even though I like the terse writing style and find the plot entertainingly bizarre, that tired stereotype keeps me from really being able to recommend this as a work of mathematical fiction.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to A House for Living
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Pi by Darren Aronofsky (director)
  2. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
  3. What the Revolution Requires by Timons Esaias
  4. A Good Problem to Have by B.J. Novak
  5. The Argentine Ant by T.C. Boyle
  6. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  7. Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich
  8. Naked Came the Post-modernist by Sarah Lawrence College Writing Class WRIT-3303-R / Melvin Jules Bukiet
  9. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  10. Midtown Pythagoras by Michael Brodsky
Ratings for A House for Living:
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 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)
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Categories:
GenreHumorous,
MotifInsanity, Female Mathematicians,
Topic
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)