The Nuclear Family

Review: Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air by Jeff Fearnside

Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air

Author: Jeff Fearnside

Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2016

ISBN: 1622881036


Growing up a curious child in Middle America can be difficult. Trapped between church and father, it’s no wonder film and print alike return to this backdrop again and again. In Fearnside’s Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, he explores the darker world of what makes, or breaks, a happy family.

The collection opens up with a brief story entitled “Nuclear Toughskins.” Though a scant three pages, it sets the tone for Fearnside’s entire book. A young child gazes up at the sky, internally fearing his god, his family, his body, and the rest of the world. Summer is stereotypically a sanctuary for youth, a time to innocently explore what may lurk beyond childhood. In a few paragraphs, Fearnside eradicates any conceptions of what children understand. They hear everything, it seems, and angry words shared in the night can reverberate to the very core of a child’s identity.

Reaching the third story, “Every Living Thing That Moves,” one meets John, the young boy of an angry father, who attends church and dates the pastor’s daughter. He has quiet questions about life and religion, but keeps them to himself for fear of reaping the brunt of his father’s anger, which usually falls on John’s mother.

As with many of Fearnside’s stories in this collection, John’s mother is a silent pillar of love for her child, despite the abuse she receives from her husband. Though we are not privy to her inner thoughts, the ease in which she bends to John’s father gives the impression that she has accepted her lot and this treatment. This is unsurprising, as each story by Fearnside narrated by a woman contains lines such as “I don’t have much to offer anymore except a strong pair of eyes” and “who would buy insurance from a plaything?” These women accept that they will not be taken seriously, and that what they have is what they ostensibly deserve.

Similarly, John himself does not rail against his father, but follows in his mother’s wake to avoid blows and cruel words. This attitude is seen again in the story “Stars”—originally published with SFWP in 2006—where a young couple goes for a hike and faces the faults in their relationship head-on. The male narrator cannot understand why his girlfriend is tear-soaked and angry at his blasé attitude toward her love, and she knows it is hopeless to attempt and explain.

There are stories within the collection which do not subscribe to this theme. “The Cat People” is simple in its playful-yet-sinister tale of alien beings coming to earth to avenge any felines that have been mistreated by humans. In contrast, “Going for Broke” follows a Japanese man during World War II and his struggle to reconcile self and country in a time of horrifying racism and intolerance.

Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, above all, is a collection detailing perseverance even when all seems hopeless. Most of Fearnside’s stories close with threads still loose, begging to be tied up by the reader’s imagination. The question Fearnside leaves us with is: would you have these people continue to stumble, or would you see them rise up? The answer, it seems, can be found nestled within Fearnside’s own words in “Every Living Thing That Moves”:

“His parents would be wondering where he was soon, but when he stood up, he still felt like walking, out into the darkness to the south, into what once had been a forbidding and forbidden prairie.”

To many, a prairie is not simply where one may grow crops or till land. It is a promised land, where the new and different can take root and prosper. This one sentence urges those who are trapped beneath the boot of god or man to quietly walk toward what has been forbidden, and begin anew.

Reviewed for the SFWP Quarterly by Beth Osborne.


Beth Osborne is a chocolate enthusiast living in Ithaca, New York. When she isn’t reading books, Beth can be found wandering in the mountains, baking bread, and training for triathlons. Before she was reading, Beth was an LAPD detective. But several incidents at Astoria Elementary School convinced her to pursue a quieter life.


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