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The Weight of a Human Heart Stories

Ryan O'Neill

St. Martin's Press

1250024994

9781250024992

Hardcover

240 Pages

$24.99

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Ranging from Australia and Africa to Europe and Asia and back again, Ryan O'Neill takes readers on a journey that is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, and wholly original.

A young Tutsi girl flees her village on the brink of the Rwandan genocide. A literary duel—and an affair—play out in the book review section of a national newspaper. A young girl learns her mother’s disturbing secrets through the broken key on a typewriter. 

With imagination, wit, and a keen eye, Ryan O'Neill draws the essence of the human experience with a cast of characters who stick with you long after the last page of this fresh short story collection.

REVIEWS

Praise for The Weight of a Human Heart

The Weight of a Human Heart contains its equal portion of realist prose, though rarely without a sly nod to language and the literary establishment . . . There are also those that play around with the ‘rules’ of writing itself, knowingly referencing a structure and form, and switching, chameleon-like, between anything from metafiction to haiku. O’Neill clearly relishes these quicksilver twists and irregularities of language, and uses them to great effect. Yet the emotional weight of these stories does not rest in their cleverness. Rather, it is in the slow-reveal of a certain kind of sadness lying behind seemingly ordinary facts and figures, of simple statements betraying a wider meaning . . . This may be a collection that will elbow some out of their comfort zone, but it is also an inventive, reflective one that will reveal just as much about you as a reader as it does the conventions of storytelling itself.”—The Readings (Australia) 

“There’s a great variety in this collection—it’s not all postmodern noodling—and the stories are intelligently sequenced to take advantage of O’Neill’s exhaustive range. However, most characters and their lives do find themselves inescapably tied to words and language, and the embrace of the implausible is a delight . . . O’Neill’s great achievement is balancing and reconciling his inventive flair with what we’d expect to be prioritized in more orthodox fiction: compassion and heart for its characters . . . The playful approaches O’Neill adopts are all routes to revealing something about character, routes to sincere expression, that wouldn’t be open without that novelty . . . And while his playfulness is prominent, just as noticeable are his stories’ frequent recursions to Africa, especially Rwanda and the genocide of the mid-nineties . . . In this age of compassion fatigue, where empathy is often lost admidst overfamiliar images and narratives, O’Neill’s experimental approach brings new life and potential to how we might engage with the world around us and the world beyond us.”—Kill Your Darlings (Australia)

"Despite the present-day profusion of literary magazines and outstanding short-story collections, the 21st century does not seem to be as hospitable to short-story writers as the 19th and 20th centuries were. It has often been said that few writers make a living from writing short stories today, or that the form only thrives in the independent sector, or in academia, or online. In this radically diminished landscape, Ryan O’Neill’s intriguing debut short-story collection is invaluable. In a style reminiscent of Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad, The Weight of a Human Heart slides across characters, generations, decades, styles (we’re not talking first person vs third—this is venn diagrams, filled-in exam papers and page-long footnotes) and tones (from heartfelt to the black humour of a headmaster/bishop, scissors in hand, pursuing long-haired schoolgirls in ‘The Saved’) in a mosaic of styles and voices. O’Neill’s well-crafted stories are vital in their dramatic situations and as subtle studies of the human character—everyday triumphs and tragedies are briefly illuminated, the secret places of relationships laid bare. In the hands of this able practitioner, the minor art form of the short story becomes major art."—Jennifer Peterson-Ward, editorial assistant, reviewer and former bookseller

“Uproarious, dazzling collection”—The Monthly (Australia)

“I read three or four stories in one sitting because the book was as close to unputdownable as any I’ve read. This greedy swallowing of prose worked toward the book’s advantage as its major themes built one atop the other, from story to story, creating a cohesion that was so fulfilling I entirely forgot novels existed over the four nights it took me to read it . . . This is the most entertaining short story collection I’ve come across. Ever.”—Ilura Gazette (Australia)

“Playful with content, O’Neill is also joyfully original with format . . . [in] this brilliant collection.”—The Independent (UK)

“Daring, intelligent, witty, full of new discoveries and exhilarations.”—The Guardian (UK) 

“O’Neill is well-acquainted with his literary forebears, and The Weight of a Human Heart is a deeply self-conscious collection, employing both Hemingwayesque omission and Borgesian formal experimentation to explore themes of betrayal, brutality and failure. The deftness of O’Neill’s touch, and self-effacing sense of humour, allow him to work through his anxieties of influence to create a collection that is at times both inventive and moving . . . Solving the riddles of his prose becomes addictive, rescuing what could begin to feel like a series of creative writing exercises from glibness.”—The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

"With hints of both O. Henry and Rick Moody, Ryan O'Neill has written a memorable collection of stories that's as stylistically inventive as it is emotionally engaging."—Alethea Black, author of I Knew You’d Be Lovely 

"Open this collection of stories and you will be astounded by the hugeness of the writer's heart, and by the breadth and depth of his vision. Ryan O'Neill is a writer of limitless imagination, unafraid to travel to the many dangerous and wonderful places that imagination takes him."—Hector Tobar, bestselling author of The Barbarian Nurseries

“By turns acerbic, playful and serious, O'Neill is equally at home with satire and pathos”—Cate Kennedy, author of Dark Roots

“Inventive, witty, and profoundly human, Ryan O'Neill is one of Australia's best short story writers."—Simon Van Booy, author of Everything Beautiful Began After and winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 

The Weight of a Human Heart is refreshing, funny, devastating. Ryan O’Neill’s post-modern stories break rules to great effect; they're adventurous, textured, full of heart.  His prose is active and vivid; his characters are imperfectly real, out in the world, and under pressure: an Australian med student escaping the harsh gaze of a negligent mother, a Tutsi daughter running from genocide, a man and his pregnant girlfriend negotiating their future in a dirty park in China.  O’Neill is a smart and daring writer; he challenges the conventions of short fiction, but his stories are still deeply satisfying and offer glimpses into worlds readers need to see, worlds that are vile, beautiful, and utterly human.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise

“With the international scope of Nam Le’s The Boat, the rooted sense of place in Anthony Doerr’s The Shell Collector, and the playful wit of Jeanette Winterson’s The World and Other Places, Ryan O’Neill may have written the best first collection of stories you’re likely to read. If someone asked me to name my ideal collection of contemporary short fiction, I’d point to The Weight of a Human Heart and say, ‘This is it.’”—Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind than Home 

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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RYAN O'NEILL was born in Glasgow in 1975. He lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards. The Weight of a Human Heart has been shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize - Steele Rudd Award. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ryan O'Neill

  • Ryan O'Neill was born in Glasgow in 1975. He lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards. The Weight of a Human Heart has been shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize - Steele Rudd Award. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.

  • Ryan O'Neill
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