DESIRES by John L'Heureux

DESIRES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Short stories--of priests, ex-priests, and other restless souls--in an uneven collection marred by heavyhanded humor, self-conscious styling, and a tendency to lean on story-length metaphors till they disintegrate. Only one of the eleven pieces here is affecting: ""Departures,"" a strong, straightforward zeroing-in on a ""priest who has left the world to itself, truly""--through his remembrances of train trips and family deaths. Elsewhere, L'Heureux edgily pursues oddness--whether of style or subject matter--with sometimes intriguing, usually tinny results. Three stories wobble somewhere between theology and fantasy: a Jewish, super-practical, promiscuous divorcÉe develops the wrist stigmata of Christ (and ultimately accepts her fate with a smile)--an arresting notion badly overextended; a chaste Jesuit priest is killed in a car crash and, while haunting the survivor, discovers fleshly ecstasy; ""The Anatomy of Desire"" is the sex life of a skinned man. Two stories--about a matron who's in love with the host of ""The Gong Show,"" about a student whose dreams of success (""she was meant for better things"") are dashed by a tough college teacher--get a bit lost in the interplay of social observation and theme-heavy fable. Of the two anatomy-of-a-marriage bids, a lighthearted stab at a sort of Joyce Carol Oates story (the wife's unhappiness comes out in her compulsion to cover the walls with meaningless writing) is more successful than an attempt at ultra-cool distillation: ""Time passed for them. There may have been children, a boy and a girl, adopted. There may have been a dog."" And weakest of all are two steamroller satires (Pope Paul VI doing a secret dance, impersonal sex at a terminal patient's bedside) and a writing-class in-joke doodle--with ""Comments,"" ""Responses,"" and ""Problems"" about a constantly rewritten story as it progresses. Overall, one gets the impression that novelist/poet/creative-writing teacher L'Heureux has been trying on other writers' mannerisms for size, reaching for novelty. ""Departures"" makes it clear, however, that the most honest, direct manner and the most close-to-home material are what bring out the best in this modestly talented, highly erratic writer.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1981
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston