A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
To anybody else it’s pretty silly: love. Why should I feel a loss? How am I bereft? She was never mine; she was a fiction, always a golden tomgirl, barefoot, with an adolescent’s slouch and a boy’s taste for sports and fishing, a figure out of Twain, or worse, in Riley.
The narrator of “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” is a poet living out an isolated life in an isolated corner of Indiana and mourning the loss of his love. That’s about it for plot, but William H. Gass still gives us 34 hypnotic pages. We meet some of the neighbors like Mrs. Desmond the senile widow, Billy the redneck, and an embittered teacher that might go by Janet, or maybe Helen, he’s not too sure. There’s also a particularly appealing cat, Mr. Tick, who helps the narrator slowly watch the world pass Indiana by.
It all seems rather quaint, yet doesn’t read that way. Gass’ playful language is shot through with dark observations, hints of existential philosophy, and a beautifully gloomy kind of poetry. The whole Prairie Home Companion vibe is rather faint.
William Gass has a literary reputation—pretentious, showy, overly intellectual—but I don’t buy it. There’s lots of appeal in his stories beyond their challenging content, and that goes for his first novel Omensetter’s Luck and his fascinating essay On Being Blue too. If you don’t believe me, give this quick story a chance, it’s a pretty good place to start reading the difficult Mr. Gass.
Review by Matthew