Lovepain by Curtis Smith is a novel about life and the people and experiences that make it real. Smith has published over one hundred stories and essays, and his work has been cited by or appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, The Best Short Fictions, and in the Norton anthology New Microfictions. He’s worked with independent presses to publish two chapbooks of flash fiction, three story collections, four novels, two essay collections, and one book of creative nonfiction.
I have previously read Smith’s short fictions and his nonfictional personal examination of Slaughterhouse Five. This is the first novel of his I have read. Love Pain is the story of a short period of time in the life of Eli and his son Mark. Smith opens the novel with a wonderful and densely descriptive scene that shows the writer’s ability from the start. Eli is a social worker who truly believes he can help people and he does go out of his way to do it. He does so in a natural way not trying to be a hero. His role to his son is much the same. He is patient and indulging of his son and his interests. Things would be fine for Eli if that was the entirety of his life.
Unfortunately for Eli, and the rest of us, life is not so simple. Eli has a sinkhole near his house, there is a wild animal on the lose, his wife has other goals, his client, Zoe, has difficulty maintaining traction, and then there is the Christmas play. Eli is faced with choices and with a destiny that does not seem to allow him peace and comfort. Lovepain describes the competing forces: The love for his wife and the pain of her actions, the effort into Zoe’s future and the slipping back, being everything he can be to his son and still be a responsible adult and father. It is not only people that disrupt life. Man’s own development leads to problems like sinkholes in the neighborhood. Even nature itself faces threats and blame. An escaped zoo animal suddenly is the center of blame as it tries to fit into developed society.
For a short novel, Smith manages several subplots with well-developed characters and maintains the ability to include detailed settings. The plot flows along at a respectable pace absorbing the branches in the story and twining them together masterfully. Smith’s talent in short and micro fiction helps create a novel without fluff or gratuitous filler. Well written and meaningful prose examining the duality that is life.