Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About John L'Heureux


The Clang Birds
Copyright © 1973
by John L'Heureux
Penguin (Macmillan, 1973)

"The Clang Bird is a rare creature that flies in ever decreasing circles at ever increasing speeds until with a terrible clang it disappears up its own ass. It is only because of the will of God that the Clang Bird is not yet extinct."
— St. Gomer, O.S.T., Founder,
Order of St. Thomas, Novissima Verba, 1717

In the old house on Winter Place everyone was holy, or meant to be. They had taken vows ... if what they said and did were not always the words and actions of holy men, it was because even holy flesh is weak and because the vows had been made a long time ago.

Five of these holy men, Reginald Body and his friends, decide to leave the sheltering old house on Winter Place to form an experimental religious commune in a shabby duplex. They want to live lives of Radical Christianity. Relevance. Creative Protest. Becoming involved.
They become involved all right. Reginald, a handsome and charming Thomasite priest, waits for the Spirit to move him to break down doors and burn draft cards and, while waiting, falls in love and agonizes over his vocation.
George St. George, another Thomasite priest, neither waits nor agonizes. He pursues first Natalie Meyer, and then Doris, and finally Barbie, and he discovers, while running the race, that he is something of a sexual athlete.
There are other Thomasites: Hans, who is plagued by "a sting of the flesh," Sean, who cannot choose between the religious life and gourmet cooking, Jim, who is a doctor and has all the answers, Billy Biggins, who is a psychologist and has none.
And there are the non-Thomasites. The Emerging Nun has never emerged so briskly and with such devastating consequences as Doris and Barbie. Doris discovers Malfoof, a coal-black Lebanese who believes wholly and solely in passion; Barbie discovers the relationship between sex and power. And then there is the enigmatic and disturbing Natalie, liberated but determined not to be.
A single Jesuit, a group of Christian Brothers, a dogged policeman, and two of the rottenest kids since Ship of Fools complete the cast.
They are involved, all of them, in the lunatic fringes of the religious life and of the world outside: the world of protest picnics, draft board raids, Panthers, Weathermen, the F.B.I. The catastrophe that ends their year of radical Christianity is tragic and hilarious and inevitable. Poetic justice has never seemed quite so justly ironic or quite so brutally just.
Only an American could have conceived The Clang Birds, and only a born satirist could have written it. L'Heureux writes with an astringent wit that, like acid, burns away the hypocrisy and exaggeration of his characters. But they are real, and he loves them all indiscriminately. He rejoices in the almost infinite variety of human folly.
This is a wicked and hilarious novel.
John L'heureux, for many years a contributing editor for The Atlantic, is the author of four volumes of poetry, an autobiography, and a novel. His poems have been anthologized in The Young American Poets, Modern British and American Poets, and in The Borestone Award Collections, among others. His story "Fox and Swan" appears in the Martha Foley collection of Best American Short Stories of 1972. — from the jacket

John L'Heureux gives the Roman clergy and sisterhood that sonorous and regal raspberry that Philip Roth gave the Jewish mother in Portnoy's Complaint. ... Well-contrived, fast paced, and stylish. It compares favorably with the wickeder works of Honor Tracy and Evelyn Waugh. — Washington Sunday Star

Mr L'Heureux's way with his characters is at once splendid and sympathetic. ... A dazzling juxtaposition of ironies. — The New York Times Book Review

This funny and intelligent novel is certain to scrape like heavy-grade sandpaper against a good many thin skins ... L'Heureux's satire stings all the more because it has the authenticity of personal experience. ... A wise and delightful book. — Washington Post Book World

In the great tradition of ecclesiastical satire: done from the inside with cleansing savagery. — James Dickey

Copyright © 1992
by John L'Heureux
Viking Penguin

Here is a new collection of stories by the author of Desires and A Woman Run Mad.
Comedians is funny, shocking, ironic, perverse, and profound. The characters are like anybody you might run into on the street, except that all of them are artists or saints ... and sometimes both. Whether we are shown the parabola of their entire lives or only that telling moment when their lives change forever, we know these people and we see that they are us.
"The Comedian" is a stand-up comic who discovers she is pregnant with a fetus who sings and will not stop. "María Luz Buenvida" is about a contemporary South American saint and martyr whom no church will ever canonize because of her morally questionable life. The nine stories in "Brief Lives" explore the inner resources from which artists and saints create, and the outer resources by which they live: their professions range from painter and priest to writer and musician, and they include an artist of the motorcycle as well.
"The Terrible Mirror," the novella at the heart of Comedians, concerns a complex and unforgettable couple: Hunter, an eminent sculptor who creates out of his wife's inspiration — until she has a vision, and leaves him; and Rachel, a lost woman who finds herself only when she has squandered her ample resources on an exploitative marriage, promiscuous sex, and a long fling as a romance novelist. Her salvation, in the end, is his as well.
In Comedians L'Heureux once again writes what The New York Times has called "oblique, ironic moral fables ... in spare, elegant, and witty prose." — from the jacket

God is not dead in John L'Heureux's stories; He's simply absent, joking, or malicious. ... his idea of the thread pulled by God — an allusion, perhaps to the "twitch upon the thread" in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited — recurs throughout Comedians. Always on the lookout for reassurance that some kind of divine order exists, Mr L'Heureux's characters are constantly being surprised by the twists and turns that fate actually places in their way. As one character observes: "Faith isn't something you choose; it's something you're given, except that in a way you have to want to choose it." ... As in his last book, a widely acclaimed psychological mystery called A Woman Run Mad, Mr L'Heureux demonstrates his remarkable capacity for narrative invention — his ability to pack a single slender story with enough incident to fill a novel; his ability to summarize entire lives in a couple of pages. ... beguiling moral fables that illuminate the possibility of the miraculous in our time. — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

L'Heureux is a master craftsman. ... [He] paces his stories perfectly, constructs each scene with extraordinary skill, represents dialogue persuasively — all so coherently a reader is not conscious of pace, scene, dialogue. ... In his readiness to explore the nature of an ironic God, to chart his characters' search for meaning and chaos, to document the spectacle of an artist who fails and is failed by his art, L'Heureux is an extraordinary writer ... — San Francisco Chronicle

These, then, are oblique, ironic moral fables, and they are written in a spare, elegant and witty prose. The tone is one of extreme detachment, a methodically distanced wry remove — as if all earthly passion and purpose were futile, the locutions of everyday speech necessarily hollow and any full-bodied, acknowledged emotion somehow absurd. "What's the use," says the baffled academic husband in the story "The Anatomy of Bliss." "What's the use of anything." ... The desire for transcendence is the preeminent desire in Mr L'Heureux's fiction. Some of his characters seek it in mystical union with God. Mr L'Heureux, in stories like "Departures" or "The Priest's Wife" (an astonishingly beautiful story, austere, shapely and imbued with a sense of wonder), achieves another kind of transcendence through his art. — Johanna Kaplan, New York Times

Comedians is a treasure. ... L'Heureux's prose is fascinating and elegantly powerful. It's a strange, witty, sexy book that's both wonderful and impossible ... impossible to put down. — Cleveland Plain Dealer

With his elegant, spare prose providing a bridge across the gulf of such treacherous subjects as God, death, and man's failure to live with integrity, John L'Heureux finds and expertly maintains his footing in Comedians.The New York Times Book Review

John L'Heureux's elegantly composed stories cast a cool eye on, and speak in a dispassionate voice of, varieties of religious feeling and experience whose expressionist contours suggest the presence of madness or miracle (or both. ... Brilliantly fashioned. — Philadelphia Inquirer

With his elegant, spare prose providing a bridge across the gulf of such treacherous subjects as God, death and man's failure to live with integrity, John L'Heureux finds and expertly maintains his footing in Comedians, a collection of 11 short stories and a novella. Running broadly through the entire book is the question of faith, as each character in Comedians eventually reckons with his own awkward need for an omniscient power in a universe riddled with dangerous spiritual fissures. Unlike the latest of his four novels, A Woman Run Mad, which was limited by a distractingly lurid plot, this book invites close scrutiny and repeated encounters, requiring its readers to stretch for meanings, subtle and profound. ... Mr L'Heureux, it seems, would remind us that to commit one's life to any sort of human cause, especially such a profound one as individual freedom, is the closest we can come to finding God. — Linda Gray Sexton, New York Times

Copyright © 1992
by John L'Heureux
Penguin (Holt, Rinehart,
& Winston, 1981)

John L'Heureux's stories, appearing in recent years in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harpers, Esquire, and the literary quarterlies — and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The 0. Henry Awards — have made a vivid impression upon readers in search of fiction that eludes the commonplace. Gathered together now in Desires, their cumulative effect proves even more striking. Here is a contemporary master at his most provocative and adventurous, equally at home with Catholic and secular themes. Whether his subject is farcical or deeply serious, his style traditional or innovative, John L'Heureux enlarges the boundaries of the story, and casts a new, sometimes alarming, light on human experience. — from the jacket

The functions of American art, religion and philosophy are what L'Heureux is concerned about. He seems to be saying, isn't our 20th-Century insistence on the perfectly realized, "realistic" external detail just essentially and eternally boring? Wouldn't it be better, for our art if not for our own individual lives, if we recognized other, larger grids on which to play out our dramas; wouldn't it make sense to postulate a supernatural good, an ecstatic Absolute, and then order our own lives as if those things existed? It would be more exciting, that way, more "meaningful," more elegant. ... their [the stories'] demands are refreshing. They are the opposite of a "good read." They are difficult, cranky, beautiful works of art. — Carolyn See, Los Angeles Times

John L'Heureux ... should be a household name. — David Madden, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

Family Affairs
Copyright © 1994
by John L'Heureux
Viking Penguin
(Doubleday, 1970)

This is a diverse collection of luminous short stories, written by a respected novelist and poet, ranging from the psychologically unnerving to the wildly humorous. Throughout, Mr L'Heureux displays a talent for clarity of image and a sense of the unexpected that allow him to stand on his own among modern short story writers.

... the stories put flesh on the bones and blood in the veins of persons as strange to the layman as interplanetary travelers: that is, Catholic priests and nuns. This is more difficult to do and more interesting to read than science fiction ... — Jessamyn West

John L'Heureux's stories are models of craft and illuminators of experience. Taken together with his novels and verse, they reinforce the conviction that he is one of the truly valuable writers of his generation. — William Abrahams

John L'Heureux is a magnificent hold out. In an age of tour-de-force technique, three-ring-circus virtuosity, L'Heureux builds stories the way the Shakers built chairs; in an age which has cut the imagination free, an age of hippogriffs and seven-legged maidens, L'Heureux sits, stodgy as old Chekhov, observing real human beings and putting them on paper, pore by pore. With those brilliantly imagined images from life — Mother Humiliata crazily grinning as she smashes herself and a cow to Kingdom Come, ex-Jesuit Paul Gregoire, sneaking true holiness past customs officials — he makes you abandon hippogriffs forever. And then he slips in a hippogriff, or at any rate a troll and a cat out of hell. He's a wise writer, with a wisdom old as the hills. — John Gardner

The Handmaid of Desire
Copyright © 1996
by John L'Heureux
Soho Press

It is impossible to read The Handmaid of Desire without laughing out loud — the funniest novel about the petty ambitions of academics since Randall Jarrell's Pictures From an Institution. It is wonderfully merciless, taking no prisoners from amongst the self-congratulatory, self-referential, and self-absorbed intellectuals. They are wicked and hilarious, especially Olga Kominska — the vain feminist theorist — who is newly arrived and instantly enlisted by Zachary Kurtz to deconstruct the English Department. (When not secretly reading novels — for pleasure — Kurtz schemes his colleagues' downfall, and his ascendancy.)
Olga Kominska: beautiful, brilliant, a chameleon with foreign accents that come and go, seems to have strange, mysterious powers. Olga promises to give the various scholars and writers whom she has come among "whatever they want." "But beware of answered prayers," she warns. No one heeds her: and so she proceeds to fulfill all their desires — up to a point.
As politically incorrect as they come, and full of human foibles and fumbling sex, The Handmaid of Desire has something to offend everyone. This is John L'Heureux's funniest book: satire just this side of tragedy. — from the jacket

... wickedly entertaining ... — Evelyn Toynton, New York Times

Should be required reading for every starry-eyed college student. — Wall Street Journal

Here, in the book's penultimate paragraph, we glimpse at last the thematic thread that runs through all the author's fiction. "Beholder" or "believer"? L'Heureux was 17 years a Jesuit. His first novel dealt with a young Jesuit who endures a crisis of faith, and all his work since then has been a lament for the lost assurances of theodicy.
Thus, if I have got it right, "The Handmaid of Desire" is a satire wrapped around an allegory, a subtle literary joke that reflects the unique intelligence of a deeply thoughtful, intensely serious man. — John Derbyshire, Washington Post Book World

A splendidly witty book. — San Jose Mercury News

A delectable and diabolically clever lampoon of pretension in all forms, literary, political, and sexual. — Booklist

Sinfully satisfying ... it will make you laugh out loud. — Trenton Times

Four years after his searing novel, The Shrine at Altamira (Penguin), Stanford University's John L'Heureux presents his readers with a story that might be perceived as a resuscitation from that novel's mortal horror. Set in a nameless but prestigious northern California university, L'Heureux has formulated a satire that playfully mocks ambition and success in academia. Preoccupied by the pervasive desire for the fulfillment of one's greatest wishes, L'Heureux asks, "What happens when those wishes are granted?" Olga Kominska, a feminist theorist, is invited to teach at the university by Zachary Kurtz who wishes to see the English department subjugated to his will. However, Olga remains in charge, treating the academics like characters in a living novel of which she is the author — a novel about "power ... and the folly of answered prayers." L'Heureux has written a delightfully witty novel about the political machinations of his own turf. — Elliott Bay Book Company

Witty ... A biting satire of academic life and the petty struggles for power and influence that animate every campus. ... John L'Heureux ... should be a household name. — San Francisco Chronicle

Mr L'Heureux writes with amusing liveliness and a sharp eye for human folly. — The Atlantic Monthly

A tale of academia told with splenetic gusto. — Atlanta Journal and Constitution

Far funnier than Moo, Jane Smiley's look at academia, The Handmaid of Desire paints a picture of a department gone mad with the pursuit of power. The most power-mad among the faculty has a secret vice: he (gasp) reads novels for pleasure, but he is not certifiably insane like the next department chair. Read this and laugh. A great stocking-stuffer for the academic on your list. — Inkslinger

In this sendup of academia of the literary kind, L'Heureux takes on the battle between Theory and Literature. The book — the "text," I should say — is set in the English Department of a major university; the forces of Theory have declared the author dead and would clear out the similarly dead wood — you know, the foolish professors who actually like literature and read novels for pleasure. L'Heureux deconstructs the deconstruction with his main character, Olga Kominska, the Author Herself, whose existence (and actions) in the "text" are a big nose-thumb at post-modernism's premature reports of literature's death. —

Handmaid is a wickedly funny book. — Palo Alto Weekly

As Suzie Sweezie, a rotund undergraduate and a post-Christian feminist lesbian, observed from her aerie deep in the bushes outside the apartment of her unfaithful professor/lover: "They were immoral, teachers, the whole pack of them." The morality of professors and the lives they lead stalks the background of John L'Heureux's fifteenth novel, The Handmaid of Desire, another farcical romp through the bedrooms and dinner parties of the overeducated and oversexed whose salaries we pay with our children's tuition. If the plot of this L'Heureux soufflé were any lighter it would rise from the bookshelf, yet he manages to supply a few good laughs without causing us to knit our brow over the state of American higher education. — Steven E Alford Book Review

Having Everything
Copyright © 1999
by John L'Heureux
Atlantic Monthly Press

John L'Heureux's previous novels have established him as a consummate prose stylist, a witty and ferocious ironist, and a depth explorer of the dark sides of men and women. Having Everything is a pitch-perfect novel in which L'Heureux's many talents are on full display.
Take a man who has everything — youth, looks, an important job, a devoted family — and ask: what could make this man jeopardize it all for a moment's flirtation with the forbidden? Having Everything is the story of Philip Tate, just such a man, and the nighttime drive that opens a door to his suddenly inevitable future. Behind that door live the Kizers — beautiful, troubled Dixie, and brilliant, kinky Hal. By stepping, without knocking, into the Kizers' house and into the midst of their sad marriage, Philip sets in motion the near ruin — and perhaps the salvation — of his entire world.
Fierce, ironic, and beautifully told, Having Everything reminds us that sometimes — in marriage, and in life — having everything is not enough. — from the jacket

Had Diogenes lived today, instead of searching for an honest man, he would have been swinging his lantern in hopes of hitting a well-balanced psychiatrist. Or so fiction would generally have one believe. Psychiatrists in novels generally fall into one of two categories: they are either cold, insensitive, and all-around clueless when it comes to their nearest and dearest (see Fear of Flying's Benjamin Wing) or they are wackier than their patients — often in dark and twisted ways. Philip Tate, the hero of John L'Heureux's Having Everything, belongs to this second group. ... In Having Everything, L'Heureux suggests that success is only skin deep, and demonstrates how difficult it really is to have it all. — Margaret Prior

Though the book’s atmosphere is rarefied — few people live in such an analytical, intellectual subculture — L’Heureux’s work is distinguished by his writing about adults, his fine ear for the poetry of dialogue that often exists between husbands and wives, and the frequent irony of parent-child exchanges. Recommended for all fiction collections. — Library Journal

A kind of biblical sojourn among the very lost tribes of Harvard, as L'Heureux (The Handmaid of Desire, 1996, etc.) envisions the sorrows of Job being visited upon a righteous psychiatrist. ... Witty and interesting. — Kirkus Reviews

L'Heureux once again explores the dark sides of men and women, in this tale of a man who has everything, who stumbles upon the sad marriage of a beautiful but sad woman and her kinky husband. —

There are any number of reasons to admire and respect the novels of John L'Heureux, among the most important of which are their firm roots in ordinary American reality. — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

As the book moves forward to a conclusion that readers will sense is going to be catastrophic, it is impossible to stop turning its pages. Even with all the clues to the contrary, one hopes that in the end, each character will just dust himself off and settle down. But at its core, this book is a moral fable about what you have, what is too precious to squander, what you value too much, or value too little. — Washington Times

Having Everything is a gracefully written, fully familiar look at adulthood. The writing is so sharp and clear, in fact, that Having Everything is an Andrew Wyeth painting of a novel, in which every gesture, every blade of grass cuts through to some emotion, traveling a distance from skin to heart that could exist only after at least four decades, like a molecule with all eight rings from its nucleus to its outer shell, with no need to bond. — Los Angeles Times

Readers will find themselves pulling for the Tates as they struggle to put their lives back together. Having Everything is a fascinating exploration of what happens when "having it all" isn't nearly enough. — BookPage

Thoughtful and gracefully written. — Salon

An Honorable Profession
Copyright © 1991
by John L'Heureux
Grove Press, 2002
Viking Penguin, 1991

"I'm a weak man," Miles Bannon says, "and perhaps I'm stupid. Certainly I've done many foolish things. But I did not molest Billy Mack." Why, then, are the police investigating him? Why do so many people think he's guilty?
In An Honorable Profession, John L'Heureux turns from the world of passion and obsession he explored in his best-selling A Woman Run Mad and sets us down in the crowded, ambiguous, middle-class world of Malburn High, where teaching is an honorable profession and where teachers' lives seem as simple and as honorable as the daily task they perform. They are smart, caring, ambitious men and women, they are likable and devoted teachers — never mind that some of them have problems with alcohol and loneliness and the need for love, or what they think is love.
At the center of this world is Miles Bannon, a good man and a popular teacher. He has nursed his mother through her long illness, until her death leaves him free to marry Margaret — a battered wife, a widow — who sees him as her salvation. But then he falls in love with Diane. Their affair, for Miles, is his salvation. He is loved by two extraordinary women. He is in love with both. He feels a pleasant sort of guilt. And then a student with a crush on him precipitates a public crisis and, almost without warning, Miles Bannon's world collapses. He is accused of molesting a student.
What happens to a man at such a moment? Miles, like all of us, is guilty of many things. He has loved neither wisely nor well. He has been imprudent in speech and action. He sometimes wakes in the night and covers his face in shame. But molesting a student? It is unthinkable. So why don't people believe him? They say he did it, and what they say is repeated on the radio, on television, in the newspapers. And in the corridors of the school, in the restrooms, in his class. He is left with nothing to survive on except what he is.
Can any of us, publicly accused, ever be innocent again?
An Honorable Profession is John L'Heureux's best novel so far. The writing is elegant, witty, ironic. The story is taut and compelling. This is a rewarding book, rich and profoundly generous in its humanity. — from the jacket

What Mr L'Heureux does best is portray the psychological consequences of Miles's actions. By dovetailing the false allegations about Billy Mack's suicide with Miles's own feelings of guilt (about his mother, his sexual escapades, his cheating on Margaret), he is able to slowly reveal the recesses of Miles's personality. Like so many of the author's earlier heroes, Miles emerges as a self-absorbed fellow, obsessive in his habits, defensive in his posture toward the world, and forced, finally, by the hyperbolic events in this novel, to confront the truth about himself. — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

An Honorable Profession is ... a tautly written psychological thriller. L'Heureux's generous vision of humanity makes this a novel of redemption. — St. Louis Post Dispatch

... An Honorable Professionis brilliant and complex. ... Miles emerges from his crucible of pain and guilt a stronger, more self-aware man. He survives with dignity. Indeed, it is this quality and the irony and humor in the book that save An Honorable Profession from becoming relentlessly melodramatic. ... a rich, interesting work. ... He is a deeply ambitious novelist, one who isn't afraid of dealing with dark themes and what it means to be fully human, especially in the frightening and ecstatic world we create behind the darkened bedroom walls. — Robert Ward, New York Times Book Review

Jessica Fayer
Copyright © 1993
by John L'Heureux
Viking Penguin
(Macmillan, 1976)

The scene is Boston on a hot summer day. Jessica Fayer climbs Beacon Hill with labored breath, fair game for the young hyenas lounging in doorways. When she rests for a moment in the shade of Louisburg Square, they swoop down, rob her, and leave her for dead. Heat from the broiling cobblestones rises around her. Before her mind's eye swirl fragments of her long life — as orphan, nun, wife, widow, mistress. She has loved and been loved by so many, and yet it has taken almost all of her seventy-five years to enter life fully and live it freely.
In telling the story of Jessica Fayer, John L'Heureux convincingly transports the reader into the very consciousness of this complex woman. The shifts, dislocations, metamorphoses that have marked her life, he fuses with extraordinary psychological insight. There is humor in the novel, there is pain, and there is genuine compassion.
Jessica Fayer is a brilliant portrait of a woman who discovers life on the day it ends for her. It is a romantic affirmation of personality in conflict with the fact of death. It may easily be John L'Heureux's best work of fiction to date. — from the jacket

The Medici Boy
Copyright © 2014
by John L'Heureux
Astor + Blue Editions

*Starred Review* Intensely appealing, viscerally gripping, and unfailingly human in its characters, L’Heureux’s most recent novel beckons with the undeniable promise of great writing to all lovers of historical literary fiction that easily manages to transcend its time parameters. ... Notable for its impeccable details about the exquisite art and brutal politics of early 1400s Italy, this is also a thoroughly researched musing on the vagaries, peccadilloes, and redemptions of people regardless of era. Expansive yet precisely written, L’Heureux’s work will long linger in the reader’s mind. — Booklist, Julie Trevelyan

A writer who picks up his readers by the scruff of the neck and won't let go. — Chicago Tribune

L'Heureux's efforts to weave myth., extremity, and a religious note into [various] settings are high risk. The result is powerful and original. — Los Angeles Times Book Review

A deeply ambitious novelist, one who isn't afraid of dealing with dark themes and what it means to be fully human, especially in the frightening and ecstatic world we create behind the darkened bedroom walls. — New York Times Book Review

A novel bursting with love — collegial, artistic and erotic. John L'Heureux brings to life the bliss and treachery of the Italian Renaissance through prose as passionate as his characters. Deeply enjoyable, The Medici Boy soars like an operatic aria, before breaking our hearts. — David Henry Hwang, Toby and Obie award winning playwright, of M. Butterfly, FOB, The Dance and The Railroad

Lust, envy, greed. Pride. Wrath. Set John L'Heureux loose in 15th-century Florence; give him Donatello, Cosimo de Medici, a royal flush of deadly sins, and a boy too handsome for his own good, and watch a master at work, and at play. There is no time and no place and no human transaction that L'Heureux can't plunder to assemble the kind of novel his fans expect, and his fans-to-be have never before encountered. Luminous, intelligent, funny, shocking, and, yes: revelatory. — Kathryn Harrison, New York Times Bestselling Author, Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair

The Miracle
Copyright © 2002
by John L'Heureux
Atlantic Monthly P

John L'Heureux has been acclaimed as "[a] master storyteller ... elegant, cunning, and wickedly funny" (The Washington Post). Now, in a pitch-perfect, deeply satisfying work of fiction, he enters the world of an unorthodox young priest whose faith is put to the test. Young and extremely charismatic, Father LeBlanc has just been transferred out of Boston because of his dangerous ideas on sex, marriage, and birth control — and his failure to maintain proper decorum. Exiled to a summer beach community, he looks after elderly Father Moriarty who, on the edge of death, is beginning to question his belief in God. While Father LeBlanc is guarding his own sanctity, two compelling women come to him for answers. Then a miracle occurs — the impossible happens right before his eyes — and Father LeBlanc finds his faith and his vows, his life itself, all called into question. Witty, profound, and deeply moving, The Miracle is L'Heureux's finest work. "A writer who picks up his readers by the scruff of the neck and won't let go." — Chicago Tribune "John L'Heureux is perhaps today's most frightening novelist because his characters ... are the people we see and know...." — Richard Wakefield, Seattle Times — from the jacket

L'Heureux takes a wry but revelatory look at the connection between faith and love in his latest novel, about a charismatic, self-absorbed, 34-year-old priest named Paul LeBlanc who gets transferred out of his South Boston parish for challenging church doctrine. ... L'Heureux's strength is his ability to expose the all-too-human foibles and flaws of his outstanding ensemble cast, as he connects the dots with short, punchy scenes that instantly get to the heart of the matter. As usual, L'Heureux also looks unflinchingly at a variety of tough moral issues, balancing the serious stuff with humor in a deceptively light style that makes this book entertaining as well as challenging. ... a balanced, wise book. — Publishers Weekly

There is great humanity in this well-crafted story, expressed largely through the appealing characters, and a final message: choose life. — Booklist

It takes a miracle to shake the faith of young Father LeBlanc, who has stirred up the hierarchy with his worldly ideas. Poet/novelist L'Heureux is a former Jesuit. — Library Journal

The Shrine at Altamira
Copyright © 1992
by John L'Heureux
Viking Penguin

In The Shrine at Altamira, John L'Heureux confirms his position as a master explorer of the intricacies of the human heart when it is set upon by love.
It is a simple story. Maria Corazón Alvarez meets Russell Whitaker at a school dance. He has blue eyes and fair hair and a good American name. If she married him — if she loved him — she would be Mrs. Russell Whitaker. Maria A Whitaker. Their son would be John Whitaker and she would get out of this ghetto at last and they would live on the west side of town. But only if she loved him, of course.
Maria asks him to dance, but Russell doesn't know how, and so she sits and talks with him — and sets in motion a love affair so strong and elemental it should last forever. But the balance shifts, and as Maria loves him less, Russell loves her more, possessively, madly. When a son is born, Maria gives him all her love and Russell is pushed aside. How can he exist without her love? What can he hope for? His love runs wild. It is a fire, and the fire spreads, and in the end it has become a conflagration that consumes them all. Consumes and — in a way — redeems. "This will be terrible; do not deceive yourself," the Prologue warns us. "We hear stories like this on television but we do not look, and when they turn up in newspapers, we glance away, because we know there are crazy people and people who are mad with love, but we refuse to know any more than that."
In his newest novel, John L'Heureux explores the enigma of love, with its passions, its cruelties, and its infinite power to forgive. He writes with a hard brilliance and a relentless compassion. The Shrine at Altamira is an experience you will never forget. — from the jacket

John L'Heureux is one of our finest writers. His work is consistently original, incisive, always compelling. The Shrine at Altamira meets and perhaps exceeds John L'Heureux's own exacting standard. A moving book about the strange zones of intersection between love and cruelty. — Scott Turow

The final scene is a dark and glorious triumph, a resolution for which all the painstaking development of character and event, all the delicate construction of a metaphor system, have prepared us — yet it is so unexpected and so grotesquely right that it takes the breath away. The effect is to arouse a complicated moral reaction in the reader, in which understanding and compassion are as strong as shock and outrage, the impulse to forgive as vivid as the impulse to condemn. ... The Shrine at Altamira is a novel that works both as a powerfully effective piece of drama and as a serious reflection on the violent abuse of children. — Patrick McGrath, New York Times Book Review

Mesmerizing ... a powerful and effective story about love's most anguished and distrubing permutations. — Cleveland Plain Dealer L'Heureux has never been a writer to turn away from stories others fear. Perhaps his most ambitious novel, The Shrine at Altamira, is also his most successful; ... Around the central drama of sinner and sinned against, L'Heureux in brilliantly economical strokes, sketches the range of human faith, from Maria's mother, whose belief accepts all, to Clark's psychiatrist, who says God is no more than an invention of the weak-hearted.
Ultimately, only the old priest can explain a story such as this: "God sanctifies us — he makes us saints — in his own way. Not in our way. It never looks like sanctity to us. It looks like madness, or failure, or even sin." John and Russell are so sanctified, and readers of this luminous novel will marvel that John L'Heureux has somehow conspired to redeem the unforgivable. — Kathryn Harrison, Los Angeles Times Book Review

This well-written, disturbing novel resembles a Greek tragedy. The fateful pattern of abusive family relationships presages the catastrophic outcome. Fate, religious faith (and lack of faith), and the healer's self-doubts are prevalent and interwoven themes. The author is an ordained Roman Catholic priest who left the priesthood. Dr. Clark, a highly sympathetic character, horrified by man's inhumanity to man, is like the priest who has lost his faith. His torment could form the basis for a discussion of professional distance/involvement and physician "burn-out."
The burn victim's perceptions and surgical restoration are vividly and accurately detailed; the mother's inability to cope with his disfigurement is also striking. Many other important issues are depicted as well: the yearning for cultural acceptance; the adolescent's ambivalent struggle for independence; the woman's need for a life of her own outside of motherhood; the nurturing (sometimes tyrannical) role of the grandmother in a disrupted family; and the child's need for love, even from a murderous parent. — Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database

A Woman Run Mad
Copyright © 1989
by John L'Heureux
Avon (Viking Penguin, 1988)

A Woman Run Mad is funny, shocking, profound, and compulsively readable. John L'Heureux, with the high style and unbridled imagination of his prize-winning stories, has spun out a full-length novel — of love and obsession — that is at once a metaphysical mystery and a page-turning thriller, a book that is impossible to put down.
There was a scandal once in Boston that was not totally hushed up ... a debutante named Sarah Slade ... her Buenos Aires lover ... rumors of foreign sin and rumors of kinky sex ... murder ... a bloody bed ... perversions, mutilation, a plea of insanity. What ever happened to Sarah Slade? But that was years and years ago when Boston was a different place. No one cares now, no one even thinks of it.
Certainly Quinn is not thinking of it. Quinn has quarreled with his wife again and now all he wants is peace. He's in Bonwit Teller to buy her a handbag, to make up with her, to be friends once more. But a tall cool blonde gets to the handbag first, and takes it without paying. Quinn follows her. And someone follows Quinn. And propositions him. And Quinn refuses. But Quinn comes to know the woman and from that knowledge all their lives unravel. Because the woman is Sarah Slade. Quinn's pursuer, Angelo, is her bodyguard. And from this moment, Sarah and Angelo and Quinn and his wife, Claire, will never be the same.
Driven but full of hope, these unforgettable characters try to master their obsessions, and — in ways they would never have dreamed — they succeed; even Angelo, the world's most unlikely and unwilling candidate for sanctity.
A Woman Run Mad is witty and wicked and profoundly serious. — from the jacket

This is a master's novel: not a stroke wasted, not a detail omitted, economically imagined, unflinching, and, above all, exciting — the kind of book that can keep a cigarette addict, out of supplies, nailed to his chair for two jittery hours. — George V. Higgins

A Woman Run Mad is an intellectual, sexual thriller written with great wit and elegance. It will be a crime if it's not a best-seller. — Dan Wakefield

What a wonderfully hideous, gruesome, grueling horror-marathon of a book! A cross between a Henry James novel and the Texas chain saw massacre. I loved it. — Carolyn See

John L'Heureux's imagination is wild and wooly; a shameless, fearless marvel. His new book, A Woman Run Mad, is a risky ride, at once erotic, funny, smart, and scary. The book goes too far, which, in a cautious time, satisfies the heart's longing for excess, danger, and, finally, release. — Beverly Lowry

A Woman Run Mad held me in thrall all the way. L'Heureux has written a taut, terrible story and done it superbly, mixing intelligence and wit with a strong dose of the macabre. — Maxine Kumin

The damned thing is amazing ... Question: Is there any rule L'Heureux doesn't break? Answer: Probably one or two. But it doesn't matter since he gets away with everything. He ought to be shot. We like our geniuses dead. — David Bradley

A Woman Run Mad will fascinate you, from its title to its perfect final sentence. L'Heureux has created a layered, twisted, altogether compelling circle of desires. — Chicago Sun-Times

A superior suspense story. ... Along the way there are concealed ironies, sudden reversals, threats from unexpected directions. ... A drama of interlocking obsessions and overheated imaginations. — New York Times

L'Heureux is elegant, cunning, and wickedly funny. The reader will feel played with, but it's that kind of novel, a psycho-philosophic thriller — and more. — Washington Post Book World

His breathtaking novel A Woman Run Mad, published in 1988, provided one of the most intense reading experiences I've had in recent memory. While it was billed as a novel of sexual obsession, it was much more than that: it had a strain of hilarious black humor mixed with many kinds of gender confusion, grisly murder, philosophy and sweaty, guilt-ridden religious angst. This may sound like an unlikely, volatile mix, but Mr L'Heureux pulled it off. A Woman Run Mad was impossible to put down. — Robert Ward, New York Times

A book that is blithe, witty, and so coolly laid back ... it is easy to admire it and its author extravagantly. ... A Woman Run Mad is quirky and unbalanced. Its excesses at the end hardly seem excessive, and that is the author's remarkable achievement — Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Witty and literate. ... this is Grand Guignol for grown-ups. — Newsweek

Though written by an American and set in contemporary Boston, John L'Heureux's novel A Woman Run Mad ... has a brisk British touch. Its somber matter is treated wittily. It doesn't trivialize, but it reads as if it weighs less than it does, reminding one of Iris Murdoch (referred to more than once in the book), or Muriel Spark, or EM Forster. Yet A Woman Run Mad is unlike any novel I know. Its events are freshly peculiar. They are not always believable, but they are always pleasurably unpredictable. ... unusual intelligence and personality are alive throughout the book. — Richard P Brickner, New York Times

John L'Heureux rises to this particular black comedy with a sly and sensuous storytelling style that plays at repelling us while it absolutely enthralls us. — The Boston Globe

... a drama of interlocking obsessions and overheated imaginations. ... exciting. — John Gross, New York Times

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