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An impressive overview of a writer whose career is still climbing, Worship of the Common Heart allows us a rare opportunity to observe twenty years in the evolution of a writer of uncommon talent and heart. Emotionally complex, achingly real, these nineteen stories focus on the everyday, defining moments of life, celebrating the unsung and calling attention to the ignored. A young woman comes to an absolute and sad realization about her relationship at the very moment she gives birth. A woman enamored of younger men stumbles upon joy in the most unlikely place. A young nun takes a vacation with her earthy, unpredictable sister and learns a lesson in worship. Told with stunning confidence and honesty, the stories in Worship of the Common Heart revel in sensuality and the complexity of longings
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Patricia Henley's Hummingbird House was a National Book Award Finalist for 1999 as well as a finalist for The New Yorker Best Fiction Book Award. Her stories have been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize anthology. MacMurray & Beck will release Ms. Henley's second novel, In the River Sweet, in 2001.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Stephanie missed Aunt Caroline. She was a widow, living above her liquor store in Speedway. Aunt Caroline and their mother had been educated by the Sisters of Providence and then Aunt Caroline went away to a small liberal arts college in Baltimore. There she met a man whose work took him to foreign soil. This was just after the war, in the fifties. On a sunny narrow road in Provence he'd been hit by a truck as he waited with his bicycle for Caroline. She'd just gone into a shop for a palmier. Her life had been blessed, and then that life had ended. She came back to Indiana, bought the liquor store with the insurance money, and took an interest in her sister's children when they came along, especially Stephanie.
The liquor store, with its lit up Art-Deco façade, had looked like a miniature movie theater to Stephanie when she was a girl. A place of ever-changing escape. The bottles on the wooden shelves gleamed brownly in the store's dim interior. It smelled of bergamot-Earl Gray tea. Aunt Caroline had a back room behind a louver door, and in the back room were stacks of library books and magazines, a chintz-covered easy chair, a hassock in the shape of an elephant, a chrome hotplate whereon a battered copper teakettle perpetually simmered, tea things-wire balls and spoons, cream and lemon wedges in Tupperware containers-and other comforts. Lemon Drops. Baby blue tissues. There, in Aunt Caroline's back room, Stephanie had discovered the world. Reading Denise Levertov and Margaret Mead. Listening to public radio. Stephanie, too, went away to college, and she did not return until she entered the motherhouse and Aunt Caroline had become old, unreasonably so it seemed. Her legs were swollen below the knee and she kept them wrapped in white cotton towels she purchased from a Goodwill. The towels were imprinted with Emerald Hotel. She soaked them in an herbal solution that stank to high heaven. Her feet were crippled: bunions and corns signalled stormy weather. Her glasses were heavy and she refused to consider surgery to correct her vision. She'd had a life of promise but Speedway had pulled her back in, like a raveling thread.
Where Stephanie had grown up, with Aunt Caroline nearby, the houses had a muddied, shrunken look, as though time and the elements were beating them into the ground. Gutters dipped and tapped in wind against the aluminum siding. Storm drains clogged with twigs and trash. Whenever her family came to visit the motherhouse, it was as though she were forced to go back. Back to their front yard turned into a parking lot for the Indy 500, her father in a T-shirt, collecting twenty dollars a car. Back to her mother's bottle of tears from a statue of the Virgin Mary. To Grace's filthy ashtrays and her smoke smell. And the television always on. Disjunctive memories. Permanent and substantial. She often thought sinfully, pridefully: how could I have come from there?
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