The Practical Heart: Four Novellas

Gurganus, Allan

Published by Vintage, 2002
ISBN 10: 0375727639 / ISBN 13: 9780375727634
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Synopsis: In his fictional Falls, North Carolina–a watchful zone of stifling mores–Allan Gurganus’s fond and comical characters risk everything to protect their improbable hopes from prejudice, poverty, betrayal. Seeking warmth and true connection, they shield themselves and loved ones while creating a rarely-glimpsed world of valor, minor grandeur, side-street heroics.

Muriel Fraser, a poor Scottish-born spinster, is the subject of a John Singer Sargent portrait in the imagination of her devoted grand-nephew. Tad Worth, a young man dying of AIDS, finds ways to restore vitality to old friends and 18th-century houses. Overnight, one pillar of the community, accused of child molesting, becomes the village pariah. And Clyde Delman, ugliest if kindest man in Falls, finds the love of his eight-year-old son jeopardized when troubling family secrets arise. In each of these splendid complex tales, Allan Gurganus wrings truths–sometimes bruising, ofttimes warming–from human hearts as immense as they are local.

Review: Allan Gurganus documents the daily dreams that sustain us. In the title novella of his extraordinary new collection, The Practical Heart, the narrator tells how his Aunt Muriel, a dour, genteel-poor Scottish immigrant, came to be painted by John Singer Sargent. This bit of family history turns out to be a fiction of the narrator's making, invented in an attempt to express how grand his aunt might have been, given an entirely different life. The other novellas likewise give us narrators interpreting and inventing the people around them. In "Preservation News" a woman eulogizes a historical preservationist who taught her the language of architecture; in "He's One, Too," a gay man looks back on his 1950s youth, when a stolid neighbor was arrested for indecent exposure in a public lavatory; in "Saint Monster," a son mourns his homely, good-hearted father, giving us parent-love as perhaps the most ordinary fantasy of all. --Claire Dederer

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Title: The Practical Heart: Four Novellas
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Good

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