Book Review: The Weight of a Human Heart, by Ryan O’Neill
Posted on June 12, 2013
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a generous collection of perfect gems. It’s the first I’ve read of Ryan O’Neill’s writing, and I am now a fan. These stories are vibrant, fresh, and poignant. I laughed out loud, even in the midst of sad tales, where laughter was the last response I had expected from myself. What I love most about this collection is that, while O’Neill has a deft and clever touch with traditional narrative, post-modern send-ups, and meta perspective points-of-view — making it look easy to bounce between these quite different ways of thinking — he has tremendous heart too. He is a substantial writer, not merely a clever one.
O’Neill’s writing is never sentimental or mawkish, but powerfully evocative and tender. I appreciate, too, that it is often in his more serious moments that he is at his funniest — simultaneously, not paradoxically or ironically. He does not do what so many writers do in post modern (or post-post-modern) fiction, which is to stand over their characters as if they were mocking them — well, except for those who clearly deserve a bit of mockery. While O’Neill does not go lightly on his characters, he seems to be right there with them, along for the ride on whatever trip they are taking.
Besides the stories about writing, the highlights for me were these six: Collected Stories, a line from which the collection’s title is derived, “Africa Was Children Crying”, “The Cockroach”, “English as a Foreign Language”, “The Speeding Bullet”, and “Tyypographyy”. But, honestly, there’s not a dud story in the whole bunch. I enjoyed every one of them. As reflections, both hilarious and educational, on the art of writing the short story, I loved “Seventeen Rules for Writing a Short Story”, “A Story in Writing”, and “A Short Story”. I dare anyone to read section C of A Short Story and not laugh out loud — even though it’s only one sentence long.