We’re upgrading our login & account system. You can keep reading the site during this time, but in order to migrate accounts, logging in and commenting will be disabled until the end of Monday, April 6.

Review: The last words from John L’Heureux

John L'Heureux (Photo credit: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

A woman tells her doctor she is a promiscuous nonpracticing Jew who doesn’t believe in God as he diagnoses her stigmata in “Witness,” one of the standout short stories in John L’Heureux’s The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast. “I have no aspirations to sanctity or indeed to any kind of singularity arising from belief in God, especially belief in a Catholic God,” she assures him. Still, she experiences stabbing pains and blood from her wrists, and according to people around her (and eventually her own research), she has been specially chosen for this suffering as well as for the grace it offers her.

Advertisement
The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beastby John L'Heureux

A Public Space Books

432p, $28 

After a former lover tells her she can’t escape grace, she resigns herself. “On Sunday, she awoke perfectly calm, perfectly composed,” L’Heureux writes. “She lay on the sofa, still in her dress and heels, and said to the empty room, ‘I have the stigmata. I am a stigmatic. There is no escape, no place to hide.’” Once she does accept it, however, those around her stop believing her, leaving the reader as her sole witness—not only to her suffering, but to the divine mercy it provides her.

The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast is full of such moments of grace, with characters both denying and accepting it, and adds to L’Heureux’s lasting legacy after his death earlier this year at 84. Eight of the stories have been previously published, but the rest are new, leading readers through the unsettling and often joyful and transformative worlds they contain. An unborn baby sings to its comedian mother, but no one else can hear it; a woman writes all over the walls, denying it to her frustrated husband, and stops only when he stops trying to understand why; a man staying with his wife in London battles an evil cat. L’Heureux’s stories move, often within a single paragraph, from the ridiculous to the humane to the sublime.

Catholicism in The Heart is a Full-Wild Beast is more evident in the optics of the stories than in its dogma or worldview.

L’Heureux spent 17 years as a Jesuit before leaving that order and marrying. His life was exceptionally literary. He served as an editor at The Atlantic, published short stories in the nation’s best magazines, wrote 23 novels and short story collections, and for more than 30 years taught and directed the writing program at Stanford University. Catholicism in The Heart is a Full-Wild Beast is more evident in the optics of the stories—characters who pray and seek advice from priests, and of course, the non-believer’s stigmata—than in its dogma or worldview. L’Heureux raises questions rather than offering answers. Even the unredeemable can choose whether they will accept the grace offered to them, time and time again.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Maureen Day is an assistant professor of religion and society at the Franciscan School of Theology and the author of Catholic Activism Today: Personal Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice.
Maureen K. DayApril 03, 2020
If anything, the dystopia is even scarier in the sequel, which provides terrifying detail on the history of the Christian fundamentalist regime that overthrows the United States at Gilead’s founding.
Aidan JohnsonApril 03, 2020
Castillo writes with gorgeous precision and sensitivity about his experience as a boy growing into a man in a country that will not recognize him, his family split across borders.
Jenny ShankApril 03, 2020
Mark W. Roche is the Joyce Professor of German and former dean of arts and letters at the University of Notre Dame.
Mark W. RocheApril 03, 2020