Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Gravity” is relatively straightforward—with the exception of the one long flashback in the first expository section—and gets to its central incident and meaning quickly, with little literary flourish or backtracking. What is most significant about the story’s telling are the different levels of figurative language that Leavitt employs in this short, third-person narrative.

On one level, Leavitt uses images and metaphors to make the story’s meaning more vivid for the reader; in its first section, for example, Theo thinks “of how wide and unswimmable the gulf was becoming between him and the ever-receding shoreline of the well.” Here language is used figuratively to freshen and strengthen meaning. The metaphor of sight—through the many references to eyes, glasses, and vision—has a similar function of helping readers to reach the depth of the story.

The bowl carries that figurative use of language even further into literary symbolism, where the objects represent complex ideas in the story. Twice Leavitt notes the contrast between the bowl’s heaviness and its fragility, and this opposition carries one of the central meanings of the story. What is life, and especially Theo’s, if not heavy and fragile at the same time, balanced as it is between existence and death? Leavitt’s use of language is clever and sure, and it is organically connected to the several meanings of his story.

Gravity Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bleeth, Kenneth, and Julie Rankin. “The Imitation David: Plagiarism, Collaboration, and the Making of a Gay Literary Tradition in David Leavitt’s ’The Term Paper Artist.’” PMLA 116 (October, 2001): 1349-1364.

Jones, Robert. “The Lost Language of Cranes.” Commonweal 113 (October 24, 1986): 558-560.

Lilly, Mark. Gay Men’s Literature in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

McRuer, Robert. The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Mars-Jones, Adam. “Gays of Our Lives: The Lost Language of Cranes.” The New Republic 195 (November 17, 1986): 43-46.

Spender, Stephen. “My Life Is Mine; It Is Not David Leavitt’s.” The New York Times Book Review 143 (September 4, 1994): 10-12.

Staggs, Sam. “David Leavitt.” Publishers Weekly 237 (August 24, 1990): 47-48.

Weir, John. “Fleeing the Fame Factory.” The Advocate, October, 19, 1993, 51-55.