"William E. Emba"
A loosely practicing Muslim graduate student in mathematics
has great difficulty understanding his Hindu wife. He tries
to understand her, love, and life in general via mathematics,
regarding which the story is mildly explicit.
The main focus of this story is definitely on the marital problems experienced by this couple. The origins of the problems do not appear to be at all connected to the husband's work as a mathematics grad student. Rather, their communication problems stem from differences in culture (not only is his wife Hindu, but she is also more assimilated into American culture than her husband) and gender. So, in a sense, it is completely beside the point that he is a mathematician. But, that is the role that the mathematics plays in the story. Mathematics is the thing in his life which is not affected by his personal problems, and for some real mathematicians, mathematics does offer that sort of "escape" from daily life.
The story is beautifully written, and even though I do not get the feeling that the author is particularly knowledgeable about mathematics, the appearance of mathematics is also well done. We hear a bit about the husband teaching multi-variable calculus (the students are not very interested in learning about the gradient) and just a tiny bit about his thesis (on Finsler Geometry and Teichmuller Spaces). There is also a "word formula", "distance / longing = desire". But the way that the grad student "quickly dismisses the equation as nonsensical" mitigates my distaste for this kind of abuse of mathematical notation which frequently appears in "literary" mathematical fiction and (for reasons that I cannot quite explain) annoys me.
Originally published in Tin House #11 (Spring 2002),
reprinted in the Tin House anthology BESTIAL NOISE,
and in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2003