In "The Practical Heart", the narrator's great-aunt, deprived of the family fortune, becomes the young boy's guide to life outside provincial North Carolina. In "Preservation News", a well-born matron eulogizes a gay preservationist who saved everything but his own life. "He's One, Too" chronicles an admired local businessman accused of child molestation. "Saint Monster" reveals a son's memories of a man truly Christ-like and therefore utterly endangered.
"Gurganus is an old-fashioned yarn spinner....[The Practical Heart] reanimates all those familiar truths about art's power to transform and redeem." (The New York Times)
"This collection of four novellas places Gurganus in the pantheon of America's best storytellers." (Library Journal)
"As intriguing as it is deadly funny....An entertaining, disturbing, and inspiring book...[from] one of our greatest living raconteurs." (The Atlantic Monthly)
"The Practical Heart" has some fine writing, but also some awkward constructions and digressions that repeatedly chop up the flow of the stories.
The title story has a postmodern shift that distracted me and broke my emotional involvement with the main character. You're reading about a nephew writing about his aunt, then you learn the nephew was fictionalizing her life. The rest of the story is his true picture of her and their relationship, which is far less engaging.
In the second story, "Preservation News," the writing becomes even more precious and self-indulgent. Gurganus beats the reader over the head with forced whimsy.
For me the final straw came during the first conversation between a young historical preservationist and a widowed eastern North Carolina matron. Encouraging her to help with his work, he says, "You need to get your excellent, sinewy ass in gear, girl."
I'm from eastern North Carolina, I've met hundreds of matrons, and I have several gay friends, one of whom does historical preservation. I can assure you that Gurganus' line would never be spoken in the situation he presents. It was so absolutely phony that, coming after the book's other annoyances, I lost all interest in continuing.
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