From John L’Heureux:
I was born in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1934. My father was an engineer and my mother a secretary. I have an older brother, a civil engineer employed as a lumberjack. In his sixties my father began to paint in oils, brilliantly, I think.
I attended public schools, trained as an actor, and performed briefly on stage and television. After two years at Holy Cross College, I entered the Jesuits. I did so on the grounds of coldest reason: I felt it was the best and most generous thing I could do with my life and so I did it. I found religious life extremely difficult and, I suppose, rewarding: I was ordained a priest and remained a Jesuit for a total of seventeen years. In 1970, however, I requested laicization, which was granted in 197l. I left the Jesuits because of difficulties with the vow of obedience. I wanted to be my own man, make my own decisions, and not feel guilty about doing so. I have never regretted leaving.
The Jesuits gave me an enviable classical education_I was the last generation whose classes were taught in Latin_and allowed me to survive as a writer. I worked as an editor at The Atlantic while still a Jesuit and upon leaving the Jesuits taught American literature and fiction writing at Tufts, Harvard, and for the past thirty years at Stanford University.
I am married to Joan Polston, a teacher and writer, and we live in Stanford, California. The marriage, if anyone cares, was okayed by Rome and we are both practicing Catholics. I’m practicing, but I’m not getting any better at it.
My writing extends far back into my Jesuit life. My first four books_poetry_were exercises in working small, taking the metaphor as far as it would go, exorcising anger, desire, desperation, love, coping with God and his odd ways. My later books of short fiction (Family Affairs, Desires, Comedians) are, in a way, extensions of these poems. The stories explore the mysterious and ironic interventions of God in our lives, the range of the supra-rational, the rags and boneyard of the heart.
In my early novels (Tight White Collar, Jessica Fayer), it seems to me I’m searching for something larger than the self, something or someone to give allegiance to, some persuasive reason to go on living. The Clang Birds is a satiric version of this search.
My three subsequent novels are concerned with the problems of sanctity in a post-Christian world. In A Woman Run Mad_in Angelo_ I’ve tried to create the reluctant saint, sanctified almost despite himself and his promiscuity. In An Honorable Profession_in Miles_there is the blundering saint, saved and perhaps ennobled by the thing he runs from, the thing he fears most in himself. And in The Shrine at Altamira_in both father and son_there is the saint unaware, who does not care about God or salvation or anything else, but who nonetheless gives everything, even his life, in a single and apparently senseless act of love.
My most recent novels retreat from themes that explore ultimates to more mundane grounds: in The Handmaid of Desire to academe and the preposterousness of human wishes; in Having Everything to marriage, desire, self-delusion, and the crucial mid-life discovery that merely having everything is not enough. The Miracle, on the other hand, is a return to the subject matter of my poetry and my earliest fiction: it is concerned with the ways God interferes in our lives . . . and why.
I have completed a novel, Lies, to be published posthumously, if not destroyed before then, and I am at work on a novel about Donatello_set in Italy during the early fifteenth century.
This description of my work may sound solemn and pretentious, an attempt to give some form and significance to what I’ve been doing with my life. In fact, all these books are a pack of lies intended to entertain and illumine and dismay. I try to explore the shape of mystery that lies behind the few things I know.
Quick as Dandelions (poems), Doubleday, 1964.
Rubics for a Revolution (poems), Macmillan, 1967.
Picnic in Babylon: A Priest’s Journal, Macmillan, 1967; paperback, Doubleday, 1969.
One Eye and a Measuring Rod (poems), Macmillan, 1968; paperback, Doubleday, 1969.
No Place for Hiding (poems), Doubleday, 1971; paperback, Doubleday, 1972.
Tight White Collar: A Novel, Doubleday, 1972; paperback, Penguin, 1993.
The Clang Birds: A Novel, Macmillan, 1972; paperback, Penguin, 1993.
Family Affairs (short stories), Doubleday, 1974; paperback, Penguin, 1993.
Jessica Fayer: A Novel, Macmillan, 1976; paperback, Penguin, 1993.
The Priest’s Wife, Goodmorrow Press (Palo Alto), limited edition, 1981.
Desires (short stories), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981; paperback, Penguin, 1993.
The Comedian, Firefly Press (Cambridge), limited edition, 1988.
A Woman Run Mad: A Novel, Viking, 1988; paperback, Avon, 1989; paperback, Grove/Atlantic, 2000.
Comedians: A Novel, Viking, 1990; paperback, Penguin, 1993.
An Honorable Profession: A Novel, Viking, 1991.
The Shrine at Altamira: A Novel, Viking, 1992; paperback, Penguin, 1993; paperback, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
El Santuario de Altamira, Ediciones B, Barcelona, 1992. Translated by Enrique de Heriz.
Die Feuer von Altamira, Goldmann Verlag, Munchen, 1993. Translated by Sabine Sassman.
The Handmaid of Desire: A Novel, Soho Press, 1996; paperback, Soho, 1999.
Having Everything: A Novel, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999; paperback, Grove/Atlantic, 2000
The Miracle: A Novel, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002.
Readers can find a lengthy critique of L’Heureux’s short fiction in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 244: American Short Story Writers. (Bruccoli Clark Layman, 2001)