cover image The Heart of it All

The Heart of it All

Christian Kiefer. Melville House, $17.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-68589-081-0

Kiefer’s sublimely crafted latest (after Phantoms) explores the contradictions and struggles of life in a small Ohio town during the Trump administration. Tom and Sarah Bailey have just lost their six-month-old son to a heart condition, a tragedy that sets the novel’s tone and brings its various characters together: “Death brought casseroles... many warm from the oven, others cold so that their foiled tops wept with moisture,” Kiefer writes. The cast includes the two older Bailey children, who navigate the vagaries of adolescence in a place where everyone knows each other’s business; Khalid Marwat, the Pakistani owner of the transformer parts factory where Tom works as foreman; Khalid’s wife, Rafia; and their son and daughter. The Marwats face routine bigotry (at one point, their property is strewn with toilet paper by neighbors who embrace Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric). There’s also Mary Lou, the factory's administrator, who is overweight and unhappily living with her mother, and Paula, one of the few Black people in town, who is passed over for a deserved promotion at the local Kroger's grocery store. In chapters from alternating points of view, Kiefer touches on themes of friendship and animosity, love and abuse, faith and racism, showing how the characters are bound together and driven apart by their circumstances. It’s an exquisitely wrought and insightful look at how people deal with misfortune and inequities. Agent: Eleanor Jackson, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Sept.)