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In the Heart of the Heart of the Country & Other Stories (Nonpareil Book) Paperback – June 3, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In these short stories…everything is described, carefully, astonishingly….You never know what’s going to come next in a Gass piece, except that it will be a surprise that bends the mind….This collection was first published in 1968, but it’s timeless. It suggests the milieux of Edward Hopper paintings, ones in which the paint itself writhes under your gaze." —Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country defines Gass not as a special but as a major voice. We read about the becalmed Midwest, about farmers mired in their dailiness, and realize too late that we’ve been exposed to a deadly poetry. It says that America is lost. No writer I’ve ever read, not even Joyce, can celebrate his world with a more piercing sadness.” —Frederic Morton,The New York Times 
 
“The man has never written a sentence that isn’t astonishing.” —Benjamin Weissman, Los Angeles Review of Books

“These stories scrape nerve and pierce the heart. They also replenish the language. They are told sparely, hauntingly, with compassion and a remarkable exploratory courage.” —The New York Times

“William H. Gass has recreated a mythical Midwest that overpowers all his characters and has a palpable, frightening presence...[he] makes us doubt everything in the story—Jorge, the Pedersen kid and our very existence—as he lulls us to sleep with his crisp, hallucinatory prose.” —Jerome Charyn, The Wall Street Journal 
 
Omensetter’s Luck seemed the kind of astonishing total performance that might not lead to another book. But this new volume shows a growth and an exploration of imaginative power suggesting that Mr. Gass’s work is here to continue, as well as to stay. In the title piece, as throughout, the treatment of the relation between self and things is unique in American writing.” —John Hollander 
 
“William Gass is, in his own way, quite as successful as Joyce or Faulkner.” —Shaun O’Connell,The Nation

“[He is] one of the important writers of his generation. This collection...serves to focus the distinctive qualities of his sensibility and style...Gass is “old-fashioned” in his insistence that language is an immediate extension of human feeling and cognition. But what makes him modern is how much he knows—like John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Walker Percy, he is one of the philosopher-novelists who bring a new intellectual power to the basically transcendental American sensibility. It is writing like this that will achieve, if it is at all possible, a saving continuity with tradition as it attempts to save human feeling and individuality for art.” —Newsweek 
 
“Sentences sweet as Godiva Chocolate, turns of phrase so luscious they verge on the lubricious, paragraphs one could live on—anyone who savored the prose of William Gass will remember it with pleasure or heartburn.”
—The Washington Post Book World --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

'These stories scrape the nerve and pierce the heart. They also replenish the language. The are told sparely, hauntingly, with compassion and a remarkable exploratory courage.' -- Eliot Fremont-Smith, The New York Times

'. . . makes clear the rewards of an imagination which clings to the concrete world like a lover and makes of it, through near-perfect language, a renewed mystery.' --Jack Richardson, The New York Review of Books

'Gass has written a short story as dense as a novel, lyrical as a poem. . . . If he had not written before or since, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country would be enough -- all that readers and writers could ask of him. Being Gass he has done much more.' -- Frederick Busch, Modern Fiction Studies

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Product Details

  • Series: Nonpareil Book (Book 21)
  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine; Reissue edition (June 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879233745
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879233747
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,600,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
It seems impossible that a collection of stories as ground breaking as these could disappear from the bookshelves, but here it is. I came on to find out about ordering a copy but found the publisher was out! Then let me say, having read it a few times already that while In the Heart of the Heart of the Country gets and deserves much praise in this collection, The Pederson Kid is MASTERFul in its language, pacing and style. Order of Insects also is rumination as short story. I am in love with this book and like your true love, it will always be there.
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Format: Paperback
Early William H. Gass is essential. This fairly straightforward book is early Gass. Gass after Omensetter is a very personal taste. Fame, even the tiny minor academic variety, infects human beings oddly. Gass only had a few stories to tell. This book matters. Please keep the great early Gass alive/available & do not worry much about the later still quite interesting but arrogant blatting.
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Format: Paperback
After being blown away by Omensetter's Luck, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country seemed like the logical next step. I was not disappointed. Gass is an absolute treasure and each story in this collection is marvelous (Mrs. Mean and In the Heart of the Heart of the Country are now my two favorite short stories that I've encountered). Stunning language, piercing yet beautiful sadness, and heartfelt compassion shine through each page. The preface written by Gass even gives you a taste of his renowned brilliance in the essay form. As I move on to his horrifying masterpiece The Tunnel, it is becoming apparent that William H. Gass may very well become my favorite author. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
--Of all his fiction, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country" may well be Gass's most accessible and easily digestible offering. Still, this collection of stories challenges and it exhibits all of the dense, elliptical, poetic, and philosophical prose styling of which Gass is so justifiably praised--and so understandably under-read.

--Though all distinctively Gass, each story in this collection finds a distinctive voice all its own, as if Gass were playing medium to a seamless utterance of organic wholeness perfectly appropriate to its narrator--young farm boy, housewife, middle-aged real estate agent, etc.

--From "The Pedersen Kid,* a Faulkneresque shocker set during a deadly Midwestern blizzard to the elegiac title story whose bookish narrator has "retired from love" (and life) to a small Indiana town that is eternally dying, these tidy stories, each in their own way, find the seams in ordinary life where one little tug unravels the entire tapestry to reveal the violence, alienation, and despair--the void hidden underneath it all.

--Gass's prose is like nothing so much as an incantation, conjuring these all-too-human nightmares in a language so powerful and beautiful it can hardly fail to seduce those at all susceptible to the spell of language to charm and bewitch. Not so much a stream-of-consciousness but the non-local, non-logical leaps of poetry, prayer, and lament hold these tales together where strict logical progression fails to go--and hold the mesmerized reader's attention--even when one cannot say exactly what is transpiring.

--For Gass, the music inherent in language unleashed can carry a symphony of meaning beyond the meaning we can't express using words as words in their prosaic capacity alone.
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Format: Paperback
This volume collects short stories by William H. Gass written at the very beginning of his career, in the 1950s and early 1960s. The collection originally came out in 1968, when Gass was enjoying a wave of acclaim for his recently-published novel Omensetter's Luck, and his second novel The Tunnel was still in gestation (it would only appear decades later). Though long out of print, IN THE HEART OF THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY has fortunately been republished by NYRB Classics.

The very first story here, "The Petersen Kid", shows that Gass is a heir to the modernist fiction of the early 20th century. His work features no quotation marks (dialog is offset only through line breaks) and a stream-of-consciousness narration. As the story opens, a boy from a neighboring farm is found frostbitten on the Segren family's land. Jorge, the son of the family, describes how the farmhand Big Hans hauls the boy in, rushing to warm him up and save his life. Jorge's father, an angry alcoholic, is passed out drunk upstairs, while Ma Segren stays passive. The reason for the frostbitten boy's trespass is gradually revealed, and the story takes on threatening overtones. Perhaps the most impressive technique is how Gass obscures the action, making it difficult for the reader to catch exactly what the characters are working towards, which mirrors how the omnipresent snow of this Midwest winter obscures the world around them.

In the following stories, Gass's setting remains the Midwest, but "Mrs. Mean" brings us from rural Midwesterners to small-town life.
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