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A luminous quartet, five years in the writing, reveals even more fully the breathtaking range of "a storyteller in the grand tradition" (New York Times).
Allan Gurganus's voice—by turn bawdy and serene, folkloric and profane—deepens as it soars into this quiet masterwork. Four new fables—rich in event, comedy, experience—surge with the force of history's headlines versus sidestreet human fortitude. Improbable heroes and heroines spiral outward from Gurganus's familiar Carolina terrain. Each fires into a wild and differing direction, all in quest of some fantasy that's practically impossible:
—An impoverished immigrant has her portrait painted (or not) by John Singer Sargent.
—A young man's devotion to saving eighteenth-century homes—and their odd lingering ghosts—helps him find unlikely ways to renovate his own mortality.
—A pillar of the community becomes, over the course of one cartoon matinee, its pariah.
—A beloved, transfixingly homely father shows his village and his only son a decency stronger than race, humiliation, or even death itself.
These characters' quixotic missions prove mysterious, often even to themselves. Their legacies are not easily deciphered. And yet, their most impractical wishes soon become the heartiest facts about each. They manage to wrest battle-courage from everyday indecision. Out of superstition and convention, they lift certainty. They each find a wealth of consoling truths banked—immortal—in the all-too-human heart.
Allan Gurganus's great powers—announced more than a decade ago by Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All—here achieve a yearning exuberance worthy of a new Whitman. These leaps of sexual longing, empathy, and faith become a major new gift from this essential fablemaker.
"This collection places Gurganus in the pantheon of America's best storytellers...These stories may all arise from Gurganus's Carolina home soil, but their messages are universal in scope. Highly recommended." —Library Journal
"The four novellas that make up The Practical Heart recall the four chambers of the organ that gives this collection its name. . . . Each of these first-person accounts of outsiders keeps readers guessing with unexpected twists. . . . The book's knotty prose, dense with description, is the perfect vehicle for these intricate yarns. Gurganus is a gifted storyteller--always surprising, entertaining and, finally, enlightening." —Time Out New York