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The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast

ISBN: 9781733973083
Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Pages: 456

ISBN: 9780998267579
Publication Date: December 3, 2019
Pages: 456

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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.


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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.


L’Heureux’s own expertise is in our sites of afflictive potential…. he lands, with gleeful precision, on death, sex, regret and then death again. But God’s wry grace always comes through at the last.

Annalisa Quinn, New York Times

A sweeping posthumous collection wrestles with faith, irony, and the redemptive nature of love.

Kirkus starred review

Howling, savagely powerful short stories [that] dramatize the brutal collisions of divine will and human nature. They abound in grace.

Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Moral possibility, and the unexpected or ironic circumstances in which it reveals itself, animate this posthumous collection of short works…. an insatiable longing for integrity and wisdom, wherever they may be found.


This collection is luminous and breathtaking, varied and delightful and surprising, scattering perfectly shaped gems before us.

Financial Times

[The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast] embraces the messiness of living and inspires us to reconcile our innermost beliefs with our deepest desires.

Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle

L’Heureux’s sentences express a devotional cadence… their willingness to extend themselves, to fold in additional adverbs and adjectives and absolute phrases, is a mark of desire, the wish to prolong the palliative properties of prayer.

Bailey Trela, On the Seawall

The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast is full of such moments of grace… L’Heureux’s stories move, often within a single paragraph, from the ridiculous to the humane to the sublime.

Ellen O’Connell Whittet, America

Devoted to moments of grace and epiphany, but also devoted to the darkest corners of human existence….The final story, “Three Short Moments in a Long Life,” and its final line, will pierce you.

Bethanne Patrick, Lit Hub

A posthumously published collection by beloved local author John L’Heureux, a former Jesuit priest and the longtime director of the Stanford Creative Program, is the book I keep at my bedside. These illuminating stories range from humorous to tragic, each a true gift of compassion and grace.

Aggie Zivaljevic, the Almanac

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.

Yiyun Li

Highly recommend The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast by John L’Heureux. Darkly funny, bittersweet, audacious, tender… it is so sad to think that we will have no more short stories from this master of the form.

Joyce Carol Oates

John L’Heureux’s work is revelatory. In the way of master writers, so much of what he accomplishes on the page seems effortless and organic, divinely inspired. This book will change you, and his voice and his characters will stay with you long after you leave them.

Jesmyn Ward

Bursting with elegant prose and capturing the deepest yearnings of the human heart, this collection stands as an invaluable testament to John L’Heureux’s life and work.

David Henry Hwang

[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.

Deborah Treisman

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.

Kathryn Harrison

The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast is a brilliant collection, a showcase of John L’Heureux’s vast talents. These stories are incisive, sometimes sardonic, always complex and always marked by John L’Heureux’s intense compassion for his characters—and the rest of us.

Scott Turow

In reading his work, one can see, feel, the demands he makes on himself for exactitude, essence, emotional honesty, aesthetic freshness, digging deep for the truths of our thoughts and desires and presenting his findings without flinching, even—no, especially—when they challenge our self-conceptions and certainties, and trouble the heart.

Tobias Wolff

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’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


Library Journal Book Pulse, 12/20/2019

America Magazine, John L’Heureux: Prolific novelist, former Jesuit and author of an alternative Eucharistic prayer