Publication Date: December 3, 2019
Beguiling moral fables that illuminate the possibility of the miraculous in our time.
-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
A nun crashes her car; an unborn child sings to its mother; a troubled priest is in the market for a London apartment. In The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast, John L’Heureux explores head-on life’s biggest questions, and the moments—of joy, doubt, transcendence—that alter the course of life. Compiled as he neared the end of his life, and conceived as the legacy of a life’s work, The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast brims with elegance, humor, and compassion, welcoming both the ordinary and the rapturous. L’Heureux is a writer of astonishing vision—a master of storytelling and the sentence.
John L’Heureux was born in South Hadley, Massachusetts. He spent seventeen years as a Jesuit priest, after which he worked as an editor at the Atlantic; and for more than thirty years taught American literature and creative writing at Stanford, where he was the longtime director of the writing program. His stories appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and Harper’s. He is the author of twenty-three books, including the novels The Medici Boy and The Shrine at Altamira; and the short-story collections Desires and Comedians. He lived with his wife in northern California until his death in 2019.
These stories—interweaving the mundane with the profound, tragedy with comedy—are relentless, hilarious, sly, and astonishing. One can find every aspect of life here: ambition and disappointment, franticness and triumph. But these stories are more than just a chronicle of life. At a time when we are increasingly waylaid by the transient and discardable, this collection of a writer’s lifework feels like an essential and heroic act; and restores a true faith in life.
[His] stories embody a strong sense of humor about the vagaries of faith and life and the fragility of human convictions…. He allowed his characters both their comic foibles and their occasional, unexpected moments of grace.
John L’Heureux’s fiction tears straight through the veil that separates the mundane from the ineffable. Read these stories for their grace, their wit, and most of all for the occasional ecstatic flash of the holy—unmistakable, thrilling, and unexpectedly comforting.
The functions of American art, religion and philosophy are what L’Heureux is concerned about. He seems to be saying, isn’t our 20th-Century insistence on the perfectly realized, ‘realistic’ external detail just essentially and eternally boring? Wouldn’t it be better, for our art if not for our own individual lives, if we recognized other, larger grids on which to play out our dramas; wouldn’t it make sense to postulate a supernatural good, an ecstatic Absolute, and then order our own lives as if those things existed? It would be more exciting, that way, more ‘meaningful,’ more elegant.
—Carolyn See, Los Angeles Times
Mr. L’Heureux demonstrates his remarkable capacity for narrative invention—his ability to pack a single slender story with enough incident to fill a novel; his ability to summarize entire lives in a couple of pages… to turn the narratives into beguiling moral fables that illuminate the possibility of the miraculous in our time.
—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
L’Heureux chronicles the modern search for God amidst the apparent randomness of everyday life with all the grace and style of the great writers of religious fiction… L’Heureux’s fiction flourishes when his characters are God-crazed and spiritually hungry.
L’Heureux, in a sentence, can convey enormous pain.
—Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times
Loose cannons are John L’Heureux’s specialty… He writes quietly, almost tenderly… about faith and about regular people.
—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
[L’Heureux’s] elegant, spare prose [provides] a bridge across the gulf of such treacherous subjects as God, death and man’s failure to live with integrity.
—Linda Gray Sexton, New York Times
John L’Heureux’s vision is eerie and unmistakably his own… These, then, are oblique, ironic moral fables, and they are written in a spare, elegant and witty prose.
—Johanna Kaplan, New York Times