Critiques

Review Excerpts:

From Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1993:
The essence of American boys' practicality, perversity, and sweetness memorably captured in a hundred brief, reverberant tales of farm life, some reprinted from an earlier collection by poet Heynen (You Know What is Right, 1985). Divided into six parts, Heynen's stories catalogue the daily brutality and beauty that shape the character of ``the boys,'' five or so brothers and their friends roaming on their fathers' (``the men's'') hog and corn farms in some unspecified midwestern state. They help birth calves--saving the life of a heifer and her calf by cutting up a second unborn calf in utero and removing it, piece by piece, to free the first--and rescue dogs, whose tails they chop off in an effort to make the motley pups acceptable to their fathers. They steal a watermelon from a town woman's garden (``Gotcha'') and blame the man who sneaks up on them and turns them in: ``Good people don't crawl on their hands and knees through the tomatoes to catch boys stealing.'' In ``Dancing with Chickens,'' they sneak into the coops in the early morning and clap softly until the chickens start to follow the beat; then the boys dance with the chickens until ``they got dizzy or heard someone coming. They didn't want anyone to see them doing this. Dancing with chickens was the only dancing the boys ever did. How would someone watching know...they weren't just following?'' And in ``The Grandfather,'' the boys shoot a mourning dove whose cooing is preventing their well-loved cancer-stricken grandfather from resting and ``brought the dead bird inside and held it up for their grandfather. They extended their arms toward him, each of them holding part of the birds' wings between his fingers, so he could see that this gift was from all of them.'' The boys form a perfect chorus of cruelty and kindness--and Heynen is a Hemingway of farm life. Exquisite. -- Copyright 1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Chicago Tribune, August 25, 1993:
"Jim Heynen knows the secret passage that lets him into the minds of young country boys...as they encounter the realities of a distinctive way of life--isolated, harshly beautiful--that is vanishing from the American scene."

Seattle Times, August 15, 1993:
"In language that's both poignant and simple, these hundred tales present an intimate, frank, and beautifully detailed portrait of rural life."

Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 13, 1993:
"Sharply written...emotionally rich...[a] sublime gem."

Booklist star* review, April 15, 1993:
"(These stories) are magical because they give us access to childhood's open-eyed consciousness and embrace of life."

Publishers Weekly, May 24, 1993:
"The terse, reticent structure and tone of this collection--the prose is plain and unadorned--are perfectly suited to Heynen's home paean to rural American life. Disengaged from any recognizable narrative, the moments recounted here . . . possess a lonely existential quality, as if, indeed, the story of which they were once a part is now gone. Yet what remains with the reader are the magical impressions of childhood."

Playboy, August, 1993:
"of exceptional merit . . . Heynen's 100 quirky moments in the lives of a group of country boys hint of Twain."

Denver Post, July 11, 1993:
"Heynen's style in 'Schoolhouse' is a combination of Ray Bradbury (as in 'Dandelion Wine') and Sherwood Anderson (as in 'Winesburg, Ohio'), elliptical yet always evocatively stylish portrayals of small town life."

Scripps Howard News Service, August 5, 1993:
"Even if we did not live in an age of sadly imperfect books; even if we lived at a time when editing ws an art of order and refinement, when authors were expected to write great individualistic prose and exhibit insight into psychology and emotion; still 'The One-room Schoolhouse: Stories About The Boys' would be a singular achievement . . . It's (his) deftness, that willingness to acquiesce to dream and dream's off-kilter humor, that give 'The One-room Schoolhouse' its essential irresistible vision."
Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 6, 1993, Dave Wood, Books Editor
"Hilarious and dark by turns, it's the most philosophically and psychologically honest book about life on the farm that I've had the pleasure to read."

MinneapolisStar Tribune, June 20, 1993:
"'Iowa magic realism' . . . Heynen is long on understanding the human heart or the perverse and charming ways of adolescence . . . a book as relevant to the big city as to rural America."

Washington Times, June 27, 1993:
"(These stories) achieve a depth of human truth that is startling . . . Filled with rich human characters . . . plain-spoken, comic and full of carefully observed life . . . Read (these stories) to your children and friends. But read them."

St. Paul Pioneer Press,, June 27, 1993:
"if curiosity is the book's subject, knowledge is its theme. There are illuminations of private moments of understanding and experience . . ., useful lessons that help distinguish the real from the apparent . . . (and) snippets illustrating that nature's own discipline must be respected."

Portland Oregonian, July 9, 1993:
"It's a compendium of brief, laconic tales capable of eliciting slow smiles from those who have never seen a chicken, let alone danced with one . . . You get the idea: pearls of philosophical wisdom recovered from swine; homely meditations conceived during sessions of cow-milking and just being there, in rural America, once lighted by coal oil and innocent beneath the star shine."

The Hungry Mind Review, Fall, 1993:
"Without sentimental excess, (Heynen) evokes the atmosphere of youth on a mid-America farm . . . Though unadorned, Heynen's stories have an inner complexity that bears rereading. Some, like 'Yellow Girl,' have the freshness of creation legends, while others, like 'The Minister's Wife,' play like Bergman, sweetly perverse. Their intricacy doesn't leap out, but blooms gradually as they are exposed to light."

Minnesota Calls, March/April, 1994:
"These are essentially epistemological tales--illustrations of how we come to know, to experience the world and make sense of what it teaches us. The tales, however, are far from tedious or heavy: one of their primary jobs is to demonstrate the usefulness of a sense both of sharp irony and of broad farcical humor in making your way through the world . . . But don't be fooled . . . into thinking that there's any nostalgia or farmy sentimentality in this book: It's closer to La Rouchfooucald or Aesop or the great old Talmudic tale spinners than to sweet snapshots of country living."

Individual Comments:
"Jim Heynen brings forward the half-conscious minds of young boys without judgment or condescension. A few of the tales about animals--such as 'What Happened During the Ice Storm' and 'Big Bull'--are tiny masterpieces." Robert Bly

"With THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE, Jim Heynen captures the secret life of boys and of the land in such a way that he captures our own memories, whether we be male or female, urban or rural. In the dancing of chickens or the flick of a switch on the day electricity first comes to the farm are meditations on cruelty and tenderness, on mystery and exposure, on luxury and privations, and on the terror and seduction of growing up. At first glance, these small tales are as smooth as the mirrored surface of a lake, but underneath is the whole damn world, dark and complex and penetrated here and there by startling shafts of light." Teresa Jordon

"Who tells the astronauts their bedtime stories? For me it was Jim Heynen. Every sleep period during my last space shuttle mission, I listened to a tape of Jim reading some of these stories. For this Minnesota boy, it was as close to home as I could get. Jim's stories are a delight. They can't take you to space, but they can sure bring you back." George Pinky Nelson, astronaut



-- jh