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 8-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.
What the critics say
"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)
"As intriguing as it is deadly funny....An entertaining, disturbing, and inspiring book...[from] one of our greatest living raconteurs." (The Atlantic Monthly)
"This collection of four novellas places Gurganus in the pantheon of America's best storytellers." (Library Journal)
What listeners say about The Practical Heart
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Choppy Writing and Sinking Interest
"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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