cover image The Weight of a Human Heart

The Weight of a Human Heart

Ryan O’Neill. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-02499-2

Vital storytelling and literary flourishes distinguish Scottish author O’Neill’s creative story collection. Throughout, the author employs original devices, from the elucidating subscript notations of “The Footnote,” to the doodles and flowcharts tracking a relationship’s disintegration in “Figures in a Marriage,” to the fonts and broken typewriter keys of “Typography,” a powerful story that evokes the crushing effects of loss on youth. “The Cockroach,” one of the best, appears early and eschews bells and whistles as it follows a girl in Rwanda. That country is the setting for other stories as well, including “The Genocide,” in which injustice competes with beauty. But lightness and satire saturate the brilliant “A Short Story”; and amidst stories supported by Venn diagrams, exam questions, distinguished author quotations (“Seventeen Rules for Writing a Short Story”), and a tale told through book reviews (“The Eunuch in the Harem”), there’s also sex, clever narration, and illustrative graphics that add wit and whimsy. What brings all of the tonal diversity together is Neill’s obvious understanding of the cohesiveness of language, its power to transcend and overcome, and the way an economy of precious words in a short story can achieve a novel’s worth of emotion. (July)