Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: "The Weight of a Human Heart" by Ryan O'Neill

Since rediscovering short stories about 15 years ago (for the longest time I didn't like them because I didn't like getting invested in stories that end so quickly), I've read the work of many different authors and seen all types of short stories, from the straightforward to the gimmicky. Ryan O'Neill's collection, The Weight of a Human Heart, combines both characteristics, and the end result is as you might expect from the meshing of the two styles, at times powerful and moving, and at times distracting.

With 21 stories at about 240 pages long, this collection feels surprisingly dense. Most of my favorite stories were the more straightforward ones—"Collected Stories," in which a woman recounts the difficult life being the daughter of an author whose popularity declines—and so does her motherly nature; "The Cockroach," one of many stories which takes place in Rwanda, this is about a young Tutsi girl forced to flee her home on the cusp of the Rwandan genocide; "Four Letter Words," which recounted a man's relationship with his father through the years, as explained by different four-letter words; "Last Words," about an aging doctor obsessed with people's last words; and "A Speeding Bullet," the story of a boy obsessed with superheroes, whose home life is less than super.

While I struggled with some of O'Neill's more gimmicky stories, which took the form of infographics, an exam, an overly footnoted story called "The Footnote," and a story that looked at different events that happened on July 1 throughout history and tried to link them to the character's life, I did enjoy a few, including "English as a Foreign Language," which meshed the story of a man who teaches English as a second language struggling with marital problems together with language exercises; and "Seventeen Rules for Writing a Short Story," which defies explanation but really made me laugh.

O'Neill is a tremendously creative writer and he definitely put a great deal of heart into his stories, particularly those which were emotionally evocative. I wish more of the stories were like that, because I didn't find all the stories as satisfying. However, I truly think he's a writer with enormous talent, and I'd definitely like to see what comes next for him.

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