‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’ by William Gass

This story was assigned by Sigrid Nunez in a class on autobiographical fiction that I took in my very first semester at Columbia. The ‘Heart’ of which Gass writes is at once the vast breadth of the American Midwest, and the soft, vulnerable centres of the human heart. The story, as I understood it from Nunez’s class, came out of a travel article Gass had been asked to write about his hometown in Indiana. But he was heartbroken, and so the story is a piece of formal strangeness, assembled from the detritus of the article, a collection thirty-six discrete vignettes addressed to a ‘you’ who has broken our writer’s heart, a portrait of his town and a portrait of his heartbreak. It is, in short, a kind of essay-story, and to that end it made me hugely excited about the possibility that one could combine the two. I also highly recommend Etel Adnan’s 2004 response to Gass, In The Heart of the Heart of Another Country, published by City Lights. 

First published in New American Review, 1967. Collected in In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, 1968, available in the NYRB Classics edition, 2015. Available to read here