The High Heart

By Joseph Bathanti
(Eastern Washington University Press, Paperback, 9781597660334, 199pp.)

Publication Date: November 2007

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The beautiful linked stories in Joseph Bathanti's award-winning collection, The High Heart, bring us an ensemble of heartbreakingly vivid characters, headed by the young Fritz Sweeny and his volatile and eccentric parents, all of them caught in a weir of desperation, frustration, hilarity, confusion, and deep affection. The setting is Pittsburgh in the sixties and seventies, when the city still lay in the trough of industrial collapse, when the boundaries of long-established ethnic neighborhoods had begun to blur and bend against the pressures of economically driven population shifts, when Vietnam was gobbling up the children of a whole generation. Through the painfully honest perplexity of Fritz, we are afforded a clear view of the family, the neighborhood, the city, and the era. In the deftness of their portraiture and dialogue and in the depth of their compassion for the nearly lost, these stories invite comparisons with the writing of Nelson Algren, Fred Pfeil, and Kurt Vonnegut. And their loving invocation of a particular city, warts and all, will recall for lovers of American fiction the magnificent Albany novels of William Kennedy.

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