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In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  1,957 ratings  ·  172 reviews
IN THIS SUITE of five short pieces -- one of the unqualified literary masterpieces of the American 1960s -- William Gass finds five beautiful forms in which to explore the signature theme of his fiction: the solitary soul’s poignant, conflicted, and doomed pursuit of love and community. In their obsessions, Gass’s Midwestern dreamers are like the "grotesques" of Sherwood A ...more
Paperback, 206 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by NYRB Classics (first published 1968)
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really liked it 4.00  · 
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MJ Nicholls
Gass and me (or Gass and “I”) are having a fallout. And “I” use the word fallout in the nuclear sense. This is the first Gass product that has elicited outright shrugging. Yawns. Page scans. Meandering thoughts. Derisive snorts. ‘The Pedersen Kid’ is exempt from these complaints. This novella is a startling creation and one of Gass’s finest fictions (proving “straight” narrative was not outwith his grasp). The remaining four pieces find Gass experimenting with the modernist toolbox in ways this ...more
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: u-s-lit
I don't know for literary movements, so I don't know what this is called.

I know that few people can write an English sentence with as much brilliance as William H. Gass. And he's plenty inventive. He is not formulaic. He gives us here five stories, each a remarkably different slice of 20th Century Midwestern America. They are about Place:

In the Midwest, around the lower Lakes, the sky in winter is heavy and close, and it is a rare day, a day to remark on, when the sky lifts and allows the heart
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The U.S. of Gass

William H. Gass writes with high literary value, higher than most actually and if I had to categorize his writing in particular the short story collection “In The Heart of The Heart of The Country”, I would call it Midwestern gothic, stream of consciousness , philosophy of isolation, but alas I’m barley an expert on literature , the English language and writing, but William H. Gass is an expert, one that besides from writing teaches philosophy at Purdue University , got his PhD a
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Call it Midwestern Gothic.

I know this is heresy to most everyone here, but this is the Gass I will return to the most in my life. For some indefinable reason, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country always seems like an existence formerly lived. Maybe it’s the atrociousness of recognizing one’s insignificance or the overriding theme that life’s connection to the sublime is trivial at best. I just feel that I have been here before.

The Pedersen Kid: Nothing short of a marvel. Haunting and sparse
Alexander Weber
This book just kicked my ass. Holy fuck. I MUST reread Omensetters Luck...
Mrs. Mean is a thing of absolute glory.
Note: the last time I rated a book of fiction 5 stars was 2014...
Vit Babenco
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Pedersen Kid in the strange way reminded me of Erskine Caldwell.
Mrs. Mean is a suburban fabliau in John Cheever’s style but more pessimistic than ironic.
“Recently, while I’ve been loitering at the end of the alley, taking my last look around, I’ve felt I’ve mixed up all my starts and endings, that the future is over and the past has just begun.”
Icicles is a dreary office tale: if one’s life is absolutely empty then icicles become a spectacular event – a bit of Donald Barthelme, probably.
Dec 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amy by: Rough Guide to Cult Fiction
In hindsight, I wouldn't have picked this book by the "godfather of experimental writing" as the first selection of our fledgling book club. That being said, I still personally liked the book overall. The first story, "The Pedersen Kid" was my favorite. It felt to me like a southern gothic tale moved to the snowy midwest. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but I thought Gass crafted a scary, mysterious, and bizarre story. In general Gass is undoubtedly a gifted writer and utilizes poetic langu ...more
Review #6 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"

Gassing Up
For numerous reasons (none of them good) I've failed to read Omensetter's Luck, Gass' first book, sitting comfortably on the second floor of my local library. I am 100% convinced I am the only one to have checked it out in the last three years. This book fell to me by way of this website (either recommendation or someone elses reading list I can't remember). The book was at the top of my Christmas list after NYRB new edition was released
James Murphy
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A reread. I've been inspired for a few years to reread Gass's older books. His death late last year has given the inspiration a new thrust. I've decided to start with In the Heart of the Heart of the Country in this edition of 2014, 1st read many years ago.

I don't remember when I first read this. Long ago. I do know the decision to revisit it was a right one because this is incredibly rich fiction. It's 3 short stories framed by the novellas The Pedersen Kid to begin the volume and In the Heart
Chris Gager
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starting today/tonight perhaps. My library hardbound cover is not represented here. Coincidentally I just finished reading the title story in R. Ford's Granta American Short story collection. This experience tells me it could be a problem to finish this book. The title story is mostly prose-poetry and to call it a story is a stretch. It's a kind of a story I guess.
Tuesday... I finally got into it this morning with the opening of "The Pederson Kid". Grim yet lyrical... Kind of reminds me of "Hon
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
I find myself sympathetic to MJ’s disappointment reaction to In the Heart of the Heart of the Country ; but not quite to the same degree. It is Gass, but even more than Gass it feels like near average American 1950’s short fiction. I miss the Gass of The Tunnel and of the essays.

The Pederson Kid :: I am not as enraptured with this one as are most readers. It felt to me like a Faulknerian gothic, if I can say that having not read Faulkner in many an age. But it does make me feel less bad that Bar
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gass is an evocative writer, describing people, their habits, the weather, small towns in such detail and with real attention to the range of elements that make up the thing that he is trying to narrate. As such, it is often introspective prose and tends to concentrate on minutiae of daily life. There is often also an undercurrent of threat or uncertainty to these stories which really made me question what exactly I was reading about and how much I really knew about the characters being presente ...more
Daniel Polansky
Yeah. So, I would regard this book as being, line by line, one of the more difficult things I ever read. Gass writes like I imagine people who don’t really like literature imagine everyone writes, a stream of consciousness ramble which obfuscates basic facts, tends towards little by way of narrative, and doubles back on itself endlessly. I don’t regard any of those as being bad things, to be clear, it’s a style like any other style, sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t, depending on its execut ...more
Mar 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thanks so much to Olly and Hilary for introducing me to William H. Gass! I am ashamed to say, I had never read him before. This collection of novellas and short stories is haunting, lovlely, and spare. Gass's writing engages the reader in such a unique, profound way. He seems to have taken Hemingway's "iceberg technique" and gone him one better: His prose is simultaneously spare and rich. He conceals and forces the reader to fill in all kinds of gaps for herself, but unlike Hemingway there is no ...more
James Ferrett
“I want to rise so high that when I shit I won’t miss anybody.”

Some authors examine characters; Gass dissects them. His writing cuts into the inner workings of the human mind like a scalpel, and even if you don’t enjoy what’s being shown you will recognise it as similar to something deep within yourself.

Reading In The Heart of the Heart of the Country is like staring at a house-fire: the spectacle may be aesthetically beautiful, but it's ultimately just depressing as it's the cause of so much mi
Lee Foust
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my first reading of a Gass text so how could it be anything other than a revelation, like looking into that idealized mirror in which one sees oneself not as one is but as one has always imagined oneself to be. This book appears to have been written by the writer that I myself have been trying to be for 30 years now. It's probably a good thing (for me) that i didn't read Gass 30 years ago as I might have spent all of these years merely imitating that ebb and flow--instead I simply nod t ...more
Chuck LoPresti
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rhubarb pie, Ass Ponys, White Castle, Groucho's Farm, Limburger cheese, Ed Gein, the DesPlaines river, red tail hawks, New Glarus beer and William H. Gass.
Jacob Hurley
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a tragedy to see its author pass. The prose gives a sense of subdued neuroticism, more an indicting of a society than any flawed individual, and then the set of brief, sharp portraits, no louder than they need to be, and all through a concise set of stories. Look forward to the Tunnel
To be honest, I was legit not impressed with the opening story -- which contained the germ of something great -- but I adored the rest. Gass was far and away the most lyrical of the big-dick American postmodernists of the mid-20th Century, and even at his most venomous in The Tunnel, he could still manage a serene lyricism matched by few other American writers. That being said, perhaps I fucked up by reading The Tunnel before any other Gass, and everything seems to only exist in its shadow -- al ...more
Jamie Iredell
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Pederson Kid" has elements of the Western, as well as the oft-cited Southern Gothic transplanted to the Midwest. The pervasiveness of the snow and descriptions thereof are striking and build into a drift themselves and make of the story a bleak and unforgiving landscape out of which Jorge finds unexpected happiness. This is pretty brilliant.

"Mrs. Mean" is one of the weirdest stories of the bunch. I liked how at the end the narrator starts thinking about his penis and sex and Mr. Wallace al
Thurston Hunger
Gass' writing here can be like a flock of flies buzzing around his characters skulls. Or perhaps inside said skulls. The opening salvo fired in "The Pedersen Kid" struck deepest, right in the heart of my blackened Cormac McCarthy heart. His words get inside a slightly unhinged mind and help to pry it even looser.

This trend continued on the following stories as well, especially "Icicles" and its dearth of a salesman. Readers hungry for sordid psychological fiction can plant themselves between the
Patrick Brown
Jul 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All the readers in the world
The best book I've read in a long, long time. This collection of long short stories (apparently there is such a thing) range from the plot-driven (the sinister "The Pedersen Kid") to the more experimental ("In the Heart of the Heart of the Country"), but never suffers a spat of boring language. Gass captures the hard, unforgiving American Midwest -- its provincialism, its bleak winters, and its small, simple pleasures (the way winter light illuminates an icicle, for instance) -- through a series ...more
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far: Prologue=yes. Icicles=no.

I am saving the Pederson Kid and the title story for last. Long weekend coming, maybe Mrs. Mean?

Update: I caved and read the last two first. The title story and "Order of Insects" have both moved me back into my Gass love. Perhaps I should give "Icicles" another chance? I wasn't really expecting it when it happened, the problem could be mean.

Still "Mrs. Mean" and "The Pedersen Kid" left to go.

Final update: not quite as good as Middle C, but worth reading nonet
Simon Robs
Wow, so this was Gass warming himself up from the chill of Midwest anonymity, honing his chops on a buzz saw before, after, concurrent with his superb first novel. To say these stories are stark or bleak misses their fugue state chopped rhythms more self cutting as trial before the real slash that terminates thought. The keening perception equaled the misuse of contained thought as these characters bled all through the pages and stomped all comers. I think he was doing scales with the misery of ...more
J.W.D. Nicolello
A fair offering. While I appreciate the Fattest Working Man In Lit Business's world within the word, there are too many moments with Gass wherein another form of gas is preferable: Wind broken in a crammed room. It is nice to have my hands on another book of novella(s) w/ short stories wherein the title doesn't mention it. Like Breakfast at Tiffany's. Thankfully, there is a third on the way, although it is by Nicolello, who I even I have never heard. Subterranean bliss. Gass is ridiculously over ...more
Apr 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Each story is expertly constructed and plays out very touchingly - even the more "experimental"/wandering ones such as "Icicles" (which might be my favourite) are deeply inspiring. I honestly cannot see anything wrong with this collection; it starts strong with the marvelous novella "The Pedersen Kid" and concludes with the title story, a fragmented narrative whose real protagonist is the Midwest. Masterful storytelling, even if it requires patience.
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The church has a steeple like the hat of a witch, and five birds, all doves, perch in its gutters.”
Oct 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The mother of debuts, from my kinda American father. The progenitor. Let's call him the progenitor. That word has less unseemly connotations. I cannot readily explain why I am only getting to In the Heart of the Hearty of the Country now. Alas, all of a sudden I was already a pretty goddamn old young man, and I hadn't got to everything. I wouldn't call it procrastination, but it was arguably dereliction of fuggin' duty. But I have found myself here sitting in having read the thing. Pause. Exhale ...more
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm awarding this 3 stars merely as a place-holder so I can express how completely enchanted I was by "The Pedersen Kid," which is the first story in this collection. Stylistically, it's something like Faulkner. But instead of the South, we find ourselves deep in North Dakota snow sometime in the mid-20th century, traveling from one isolated farmhouse to another to investigate a half-frozen boy's story that his home has been broken into by a violent intruder. The narrator, a youth who is accompa ...more
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gass dives headfirst into the midwest and comes up smelling rotten and unhappy what what he has found. Digging into his home territory, he find people who are terrified of change, unable to think or grow, trapped in dead end jobs, abusive and manipulative, and unable to experience the joy of life due to endless obsession with unimportant details.

Each of these five stories builds off the other in a way that creates a comprehensive, and depressive, look at the heart of the heart of the country, t
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NYRB Classics: In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by William H. Gass 11 68 Dec 06, 2014 09:04AM  

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William Howard Gass was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor.

Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cite his characters as
“Sports, politics, and religion are the three passions of the badly educated.” 39 likes
“And I am in retirement from love. ” 18 likes
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