Critiques

Review Excerpts:

Booklist, January 2002:
Top of the List/The Best of Editor's Choice:
Part vignette, part story, these short, gentle, earthy, mysterious, and hilarious pieces about midwestern farm boys are rooted in the textures, smells, and violence living among plants and animals raised to be consumed. The words are simple and serious, and they capture big themes in small moments.


The Bloomsbury Review, November-December, 2001
Editor's Favorite Books of 2001, Lori D. Kranz
Heynen's stories about the lives of boys living on a farm have a plainspoken, homespun quality and wry humor. Heynen has the talent of conveying a great deal in only a few words.

Booklist, July, 2001
Heynen's little pieces about the boys—gentle, earthy mysterious, and hilarious bits of midwestern farm life—are neither prose poems nor short stories, though they possess the former's surrealism and the latter's solidity. . . There is nothing else quite like these writings.
Ray Olson
(YA: Teachers and students will enjoy these brief vignettes; especially useful for reluctant readers. LW)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, August 19, 2001
Sometime, someone should give Jim Heynen a writing prize. A big writing prize. Like the Pulitzer or the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a storyteller for the ages. From the ages. . . . His is the archetypal voice: sage, preacher, scribe, storyteller, wit . . .
Like Wendell Berry and Kent Haruf, who have staked rural America as their turf in long fiction, Heynen is the Pied Piper of farm life in short fiction . . .
Heynen has captured and preserved a segment of America in no less a way than Cheever chronicled suburbia or new immigrant writers are preserving the modern immigrant experience or the David Shicklers of contemporary short fiction are painting big-city life.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sunday, August 12, 2001
While our national anthem praises "amber waves of grain," one usually must look back to writers like Willa Cather and Wallace Stegner to find compelling portrayals of rural life. Happily, Minnesota writer Jim Heynen continues this tradition. In "The Boys' House" he celebrates this disappearing mode of life, one lived in tandem with nature . . .
Sketched in sturdy yet elegant sentences, "The Boys' House" feels like the literary equivalent of a gallery of woodcuts . . .
Whimsical yet poignant.


Minnesota Monthly, October, 2001 (Book Club Selection)
Jim Heynen's newest collection of terse tales is about a handful of boys growing up on a farm and receiving an education only countryside fields and furrows can provide. Written in a simple, lyrical voice inspired by oral tradition, each story is a sliver of rural boyhood that summons nuggets of wisdom from the most unexpected situations. Through their dealings with the world around them, "the boys" (who remain anonymous) witness the miracles of life and death, fecundity and decay on the farm.
Whether read in snippets or in one sitting, Heynen's book is a masterful peephole into the young male psyche and the family farm culture.

Bellingham Herald, Jan, 2002:
All (of these stories)are told with a freshness unusually sharp, without sentiment, but with sympathy that is clear-eyed and bright, just the perspective of young rural boys. These are stories that have been written over the course of three decades, author Heynen having published some in the late 70s and as such they have the weight of real implication . . . Heynen is one odd duck of a fine-honed story-teller. Thank God the Minnesota Historical Society has seen fit to preserve his original perspectives. Someday he may be recognized as a national treasure.
Ara Taylor

Northfield News, October 6, 2001
I think the beauty of Heynen's writing is that there is something for everyone. He is everyman's storyteller. I recommend his work to people of all ages and backgrounds. I have yet to find anyone who has not enjoyed his writing, and that speaks volumes.
Jerry Bilek

Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Jan, 2002
(Heynen has) honed the art of writing to a style that loses none of his eloquence for its spareness. He says in a handful of words what lesser writers may take paragraphs to express.
Jill Callison

Amazon.com Customer Review:
Heartfelt and Laugh-Out-Loud Funny, December 19, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Minnesota
Every now and then some treasure of our national literature slips in under the radar, and it's not until years later that we realize the importance of that writer. Jim Heynen is one of these. Bayard Taylor was everyone's favorite poet in the mid-nineteenth century, while Walt Whitman worked to find himself a publisher. Likewise, Heynen works in the shadows of more popular humorists like Garrison Keillor and David Sedaris, but he has more wisdom and real charm than the two of them combined. He's as close as we have to Mark Twain writing today but with a thoroughly modern sensibility. "The boys," the chief protagonists of his tales, are the anonymous witnesses to the dramatic changes of the twentieth century--but as they happen on a microcosmic level. Heynen talks about class, the loss of the agrarian way of life, the disappearance of country wisdom, and the new privilege accorded a global view over local knowledge--but he does it with the "things" William Carlos Williams demanded of great literature. When one of the boys learns that they have bred kicking out of milk cows, so that no one will be hurt anymore, he says to his grandfather, "That's good, isn't?" To which his grandfather says only, "What do you think?" The point is that each generation's incremental gain also distances them further from their past, and perhaps each easing of the present makes us appreciate less the suffering of our forebears. Heynen knows farm boys and tractors and cows and barns and all the other things that will soon be lost to our children and completely foreign to their children. In a hundred years, these will be our descendants only touchstones to the present we take for granted, a past they will need. Buy this book and read it to your children and grandchildren.







-- jh