“Some things are more important than chemistry.” That’s the sentence that ends the story titled “E-Square.” The story is ostensibly about a man named Tuohy, a very ordinary guy, good-hearted but not every ambitious. But it’s really about his friend, Trish, from whose point of view the story is told.
The story’s title comes from an incident Trish remembers. She and Tuohy and others were hanging out in a local bar when Tuohy noticed a young woman that interested him. The others introduce him to her, but she has trouble understanding his name, so Trish says, “Like Two-E. You know, like E-E?” The girl says that makes him E-Square. The joke sticks, and E-Square becomes Tuohy’s nickname.
Trish is pushing forty but still hasn’t found a man to settle with. She wants a man with whom she shares “chemistry.” Only when Tuohy’s father dies and Trish is comforting him does she understand how deeply she cares for him. They end up together. She says to herself, ““Some things are more important than chemistry.”
The next story in the book, “The Song of the Earth,” uses as its title the name of Gustav Mahler’s son cycle, Das Lied Von Der Erde but never mentions that work by name. The piece at the center of the story is another Mahler song cycle, named Kindertotenlieder, “Songs on the Death of Children.” An older musical coach, Luke, is helping the young singer, Jeb, learn the songs. Luke stresses the need to hear with the inner ear. Though the story never reveals Luke’s history, the astute reader will intuit that Luke lost a child earlier in his life, and that the Mahler songs capture his anguish.
The unspoken lesson in the story is the need for human beings to find the depth of their own being, to hear with the inner ear, to listen to the song of the earth. That is what Luke is trying to teach his young student.