‘Heart Of Hearts’ by Emily Temple

Heart Of Hearts by Emily Temple, 2017

The magic trick:

Narrative voice that helps guide the reader’s feelings about and understanding of the story

I came to appreciate Emily Temple’s writing through her work on LitHub.com – especially the listicle-style pieces expertly curating the world of literature for us into bite-size categories.

The selections are great, of course, but a lot of people can cobble together a list. No, it’s her writer’s voice that make these pieces must-read. Pitched somewhere between Douglas Adams, Donald Barthelme and 2010s nerd Twitter, it’s addictive – voicey without being exhausting.

Anyway, so what about Temple’s fiction?

Yep, the voice is very much present, I’m happy to report.

There is one line here I want to highlight, as it’s both representative of that voice but also important toward guiding the reader through the experience of taking in “Heart Of Hearts.”

It’s an odd story that begins very oddly.

We get a lot of information, some of it seeming to verge on the surrealist. Is this really happening? Is this sad? Should I be worried about this girl? Should we be scared? Am I supposed to be laughing?

And then we get that aforementioned slice of narrative voice:

“The other children, it seems unnecessary to say, gave her a wide berth, and so the jar became her best and only friend.”

Just like that, all of our questions are answered. Now, the answer to every question – is this funny? Am I supposed to be scared? etc. – is “yes.” Which I guess isn’t substantively helpful… But just the idea that the narrative voice appears to share our own eyebrows-raised-with-a-shrug stance allows us to plow forward into the story confident and excited in our confusion.

And that’s quite a trick on Temple’s part.

The selection:

The jar grew heavy. Jenny fashioned a little sling for it, and carried it like a child against her breast, but soon her back began to hurt, and by the end of the school day, she was exhausted. Still, she carried it, and tended it, and whispered little words to it when Donna wasn’t there, or wasn’t paying attention. In truth, the heavier the jar got, the more Jenny loved it. The jar, held so often to Jenny’s skin, was warm all the time, so warm that soon it seemed to her that it began to emit its own heat. She pressed her lips against the glass and she felt the glass press back.


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