... cheerfully grotesque ... simultaneously impatient with pieties and deeply, even ecstatically, religious ... The stories are uneven, wavering like one of his tipsy priests between transcendence and incoherence. In particular, the women in these stories can feel artificial ... But it’s hard to hold a grudge in the face of L’Heureux’s charming perversity ... Even in his weaker stories, he lands, with gleeful precision, on death, sex, regret and then death again. But God’s wry grace always comes through at the last.
... some of the finest examples of L'Heureux's great and enduring work, spanning many decades and always focused on how we fail in love ... L’Heureux reveals the relentlessness of what is lowest and most brutal in us ... L’Heureux skewers these shadows of himself in the most sustained and intelligent self-interrogation I’ve ever read. He told me once that all personal failings, finally, are about charity, about how we are uncharitable to one another. So simple-sounding an insight is beautiful only after you have read the great particularity and variety of exposures of an ungenerous and deluded self. It’s a life’s work in literature which tracks and makes beautiful and meaningful a life of doubt ... L’Heureux refused the merely grim and looked always for something else in his tragedies. This collection is luminous and breathtaking, varied and delightful and surprising, scattering perfectly shaped gems before us.
... howling, savagely powerful short stories ... They abound in grace, but as in O’Connor’s short fiction, the appearance of grace is grotesque and horrifying—it arrives, as Jesus said he came, not to bring peace but a sword ... The flaming sword of irony cuts a swath through all of L’Heureux’s stories ... For all of their severity, these stories are almost wholly free of judgment. The universality of sin and guilt is the source of the wild, jagged laughter that blasts through the pages. There is something scarily exhilarating about the intransigence of L’Heureux’s vision for humankind. Most contemporary fiction travels a safe, well-trod path from crisis to redemption; the author plays God, throwing his characters a life preserver. Redemption is available for L’Heureux’s characters, too, of course. But, in one last irony, not while they are still in the world to yearn for it.
... an impressive feat ... the collection is both a fitting tribute to a beloved teacher and writer, and an encapsulation of his enduring legacy ... Readers acquainted with L’Heureux’s oeuvre will recognize familiar themes. He spent many years as a Jesuit priest before leaving the order, and his reflections on faith, forgiveness and how to find genuine meaning amidst the ever-increasing chaos of the modern world are on full display here ... perhaps my favorite stories are the ones that showcase L’Heureux’s sharp-witted take on marital strife and his delightfully twisted sense of humor even when tackling matters of utmost import ... a sentient collection that both embraces the messiness of living and inspires us to reconcile our innermost beliefs with our deepest desires.
... a bumpy, fractious collection. L’Heureux’s stories range from sensitive, essentially realist studies of the fraught Catholic experience in the 1960s to ecstatically experimental tales, soaked in a punchy irony, that interrogate the extremities of religious experience via an equally extreme torquing of form ... The book’s first section, Mysteries, compiles a series of hyper-stylized stories that, with their stripped-down, schematic plots and didactic heavy-handedness, inhabit an uneasy space between parable and satire ... an ending fairly typical of L’Heureux’s short stories — a jumbled revelation that may sometimes feel perfunctory and too neatly gift-wrapped, as though L’Heureux had simply dropped the reins of his writing and exited his study in a hot air balloon ... Sometimes one registers a certain roteness in L’Heureux’s prose, a fundamental earnestness and belief in the step-by-step construction of stories which, combined with his reluctantly dark sensibility, may leave his stories feeling like an odd cross between Cheever and Oates. But sometimes the blandness plays to impactful effect ... At their best, L’Heureux’s sentences express a devotional cadence, shuffling languorously onward; 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 ... L’Heureux is often criticized for the indefatigable wryness he tends to bring to his narration, and for his willingness to too artfully arrange his plots. Oddly enough, the most affecting stories in The Heart is a Full-Wild Beast are those in which he abandons himself to omniscience, dictating the story with the warm wisdom of an avuncular god.
These are stories firmly rooted in the postwar twentieth century, both in their suburban settings and their distinctive moral idealism. Catholicism and clergy figure prominently; the author was a Jesuit priest for many years before he became the director of the creative-writing program at Stanford University. But the aches and ecstasies that permeate L’Heureux’s prose may not only be expressions of religiosity but rather the symptoms of an insatiable longing for integrity and wisdom, wherever they may be found.
The sheer creative range of this collection is impressive. It’s no surprise that L’Heureux, who was himself a Jesuit priest for 17 years, can render so convincingly the moral and emotional quandaries faced by aspiring priests, drunken priests, idealistic priests, adulterous priests, doubting priests, dead priests, priests who (like L’Heureux) would be poets, and priests who (also like L’Heureux) are abandoning or have abandoned the priesthood—but what’s wonderful is that he doesn’t stop there: In his relentless drive to capture the ironies and follies and tragedies of life, L’Heureux gives us abused housewives, bullied children, spoiled children, a ritualistically dancing pope, and dozens of characters who, contorted by their feelings or by the world, stumble—accidentally, briefly, and sometimes unconsciously—into versions (or inversions) of epiphany ... Moral tales full of love and irony written by a master.