Adam Levin, "A Qualitative Study of Our Father"


It’s December 7. Adam Levin, author of The Instructions, refuses to invest in a flyswatter.

How would you describe your story?

ADAM LEVIN: A kind of pseudoscientific research paper by a pair of siblings trying to make sense of their father via examining his behavior toward houseflies.

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

AL: I wrote it in 2003 or so. The process was what it usually is for me: drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, type words, delete most of what I just typed, smoke more cigarettes, drink more coffee, press onward as before.

What kind of research went into this story?

AL: None really. Or a lot. Depends on what counts as research. From 1999-2001, I practiced psychotherapy as a social work student, and by the end of that period, I'd read any number of case studies, worked with a few more-than-usually-troubled families, and read a bunch of Skinner, all of which must have informed aspects of the story to varying degrees, but none of which was undertaken for the sake of writing a story, let alone this particular story. 

What, to you, makes the short story a special form? What can it do that other kinds of writing can't?

AL: Ideally, its re-readability. All great fiction becomes greater for the reader upon re-reading. I have re-read just a handful of my favorite novels more than three or four times, but I've re-read most of my favorite short stories dozens, if not scores, of times. I don't believe that a great short story, when re-read, bears forth any more joy than does a great novel—proportionally, the joy's about the same, I think—but rather that, because it takes less time to read, a great short story more effectively invites re-reading than does a great novel.

Where should people go to learn more about you and your work?

AL: I've published a couple books—a novel called The Instructions and a collection of short stories called Hot Pink. My next novel, Bubblegum, will be published by Doubleday in early 2020. 

What's the best gift you've ever been given?

AL: Impossible to say. My parents bought me a lot of books when I was a kid, and even after I was a kid; a number of those books are still amongst my favorites. But what a boring answer, right? "Books?" I love them, and I figure that anyone who's reading a short story advent calendar likely loves books too, but still... pretty boring. So I'll say it's a four-way tie between 1) a lot of my favorite books, of which there are too many to even begin to list here; 2) an Opinel folding knife my wife gave me for my birthday a few years ago, which I still carry in my pocket every day like a good country Frenchman, even though I am neither country nor French nor particularly good; 3) a black Corona Old Boy lighter that my friend, Jesse, gave me a little while after my wife gave me the Opinel, which lighter I carry in the pocket opposite the Opinel every day, like, I guess, a classy cigar smoker who is sentimental about his lighter, even though I am neither classy nor a smoker of cigars and, prior to receiving the Old Boy, I had never been sentimental about any of the hundreds of lighters I'd ever carried in my pockets, and had in fact held others' sentimentality for things like lighters in contempt (see "not particularly good" above); and 4) a messenger bag my friend, Christian—whose stellar short story "Rules and Regulations" is cited by the narrator of "A Qualitative Study..." in one of the footnotes—bought for me toward the end of an all-too-lengthy period in my life when I was incapable of sitting down without experiencing excruciating upper-back pain, pain that had been brought on (went the theory) by a combination of a) sitting down to write for too lengthy a period of time too frequently, and b) carrying an overstuffed, shoulder-pinching, old-school backpack to school(s) five days a week only to earn the kind of adjunct peanuts that wouldn't afford me a good messenger bag that would ease the pinch, let alone a good messenger bag that would ease the pinch and last me as long as this one that Christian wound up getting for me, which, ten-or-so years later, I still fill with books and carry places, often while lighting a cigarette and/or cutting something or thinking about what I might cut next. 

* * * * *

What did you think of today's story? Use the hashtag #ssac2018 on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to check in with your fellow advent calendarians.

Michael Hingston