The Truth About Death and Other Stories
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The Truth About DeathHellenga is a real reader’s writer, winning committed fans with intelligent and emotionally grounded novels ranging from The Sixteen Pleasures to The Confessions of Frances Godwin; as the LJ review of Confessions says, “he deserves to be more widely known.” This collection of short fiction ranges widely, with the title novella summing up the mood: undertaker Simon embalms his father, contemplating his own death; his mother says good-bye to her husband in the basement cooler; and the dog, Maya, a sensitive greeter at the funeral home, communicates some important truths to Simon’s wife. Suggesting the light twisting of a dark subject, a plate of spaghetti cacio e pepe, which Simon eats while dining with an undertaker in Rome, figures in the plot. —Library Journal

Two funeral directors, one American and the other Italian, get together in Rome and share undertaker stories. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but there’s nothing funny about the situation in the title novella of Robert Hellenga’s new book, which confronts death matter-of-factly. “No fairy tales for us,” the Italian says—and no consoling metaphors like final journeys or peaceful sleep, either. “Death breaks the bak of metaphor,” he adds, as the two men prepare the body of a close relative who has been killed in a hit-and-run accident.

Mortality is far more than an intimation in The Truth About Death, nine searching, mature stories that encompass grand passions and fleeting romantic adventures—often with Italian lovers—along with meditations on impermanence and questions about what makes life meaningful.…

Unlike Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Thomas Lynch’s The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade, Hellenga plays it straight and unsentimental, largely without irony. He mostly avoids morbid humor, until Simon turns to New Yorker cartoons to defuse his funk over an ailing heart. He and his wife learn that creating their own cartoons is harder than it looks, and we see the proof: a small portfolio of sketches that have been rejected by The new Yorker’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, who makes a quirky cameo appearance in the story.…    —NPR

The Confessions of Frances Godwin
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The Confessions of Frances Godwin“The beauty of this novel and, in fact, of all of Hellenga’s work, lies in the scrupulous attention he pays to those different shapes that life takes. Like Frances, we find in their very concreteness a way of living with the uncertainty that surrounds us.” —Booklist

As in Hellenga’s earlier work, secondary characters have professions and interests that allow the author to leaven the story with short, lucid passages about astronomy, physics, piano tuning, the wholesale produce business, opera and long-haul trucking. Meals are lovingly prepared and described so clearly that you can use a Hellenga novel as a cookbook.

In many ways, The Confessions of Frances Godwin both sums up and surpasses Hellenga’s body of work. This is a story of maturity by maturity for maturity, written with subtlety, deep learning, and wisdom. Even teenagers might find engrossing. I loved it. —Washington Post

Hellenga creates a teacher you will wish you had studied with, and a character to remember.—Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

With most of life behind her, Frances—who by most measures seems a rather plain, everyday Jane doing everyday things in an everyday place—actually has rather a lot to confess, which is quite wonderful and delicious. These confessions are somewhat surprising but somehow not shocking; they paint a picture of a woman of many layers. Hellenga has drawn in Frances a character who accepts herself—all of herself: her past, her regrets, her failings, her successes. In doing so, Frances becomes a woman the reader can’t help but admire. She is a woman anyone would be lucky to know in real life: a person rich in experience and emotion, full of stories and insight, at once flawed and perfect in all her imperfections.—Chicago Book Review

Snakewoman of Little Egypt
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Snakewoman of Little Egypt“Three reasons to love Hellenga: He’s a fine storyteller; he gives us new eyes; he restores our sense of wonder. Attention must be paid.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Don’t start reading this book if you’ve got a dinner party coming up in the next few days, or a committee meeting or a golf game. You’ll be calling people up with fake excuses and feeling bad about yourself–at least that’s what happened to me… A masterpiece.” —Washington Post Book World

Washington Post’s Best Novels of 2010.
Kirkus Reviews’ Top 25: 2010 Best Fiction

The Italian Lover
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The Italian Lover“Robert Hellenga, tucked away at Knox College in rural Illinois, is a writer you should know. His fifth novel, ‘The Italian Lover,’ is satisfying in unexpected ways, a delicious departure from the weighty meals served up this season by Philip Roth, Richard, Russo and Denis Johnson.” —The Plain Dealer

“[Hellenga’s] characters, though a touch melancholy, are sympathetic, quirky and believable. They have well-drawn histories and an appealing appetite for life, beauty and knowledge. And his most remarkable achievement might be the on hiding in plain sight: He’s that too-rare male novelist who can create and sustain deeply reflective female charaters. —The Chicago Tribune

Philosophy Made Simple
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Philosophy Made Simple“Let’s add Robert Hellenga to the lists of American’s most admired fiction writers. Because with Philosophy Made Simple he once again has produced a novel that adds immeasurably to the pleasures of reading contemporary fiction.” —Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

“Sweet and lovely.… A charmingly picaresque tale.… Rudy Harrington is a trusting, thoughtful man whose lovability is so artfully created that to get to know him is a treat.… Since this is a novel, it is not a surprise to learn where Hellenga stands on the ancient quarrel between philosophy and literature. He makes his case against Plato well, moving us with pathos and pleasure, startling us into wisdom.” —Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, New York Times Book Review

Blues Lessons

Blues Lessons“There is a sad beauty to this novel, a potent narrative about the lives people make out of broken expectations; it is a fable of the heart seeking resolution.” —Chicago Tribune

“Like some of the best blues, Blues Lessons is a poignant story about longing for lost love, traveling the country to find it, and appreciating it once it reappears.” —Acoustic Guitar

The Fall of a Sparrow
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The Fall of a SparrowThe Fall of a Sparrow conveys a sense of certainty and ultimate truth that only the finest writing can achieve. It is an extraordinary novel.” —The Washington Post

“Hellenga brings a freshness and intelligence to every line and every incident, every motif and every page.” —Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

Los Angeles Times “Best Fiction of 1998.”
Publisher’s Weekly “Best ’98 Books.”

The Sixteen Pleasures
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The Sixteen Pleasures“Elegantly moving… Everything about the narrator and the heroine of this novel is appealing right from the first paragraph… Like her, the book is modest, resourceful, and without malice–it is high-minded and fine. So after skipping ahead to slow your heart you go back to read each elegantly moving word.” —The New Yorker

“As the story unfolds in surprising and wholly satisfying ways, the novel becomes a meditation on erotic love, on the bonds between parents and children, on the definition o ‘home,’ and, most importantly and insistently, on the shape of human lives. —Ploughshares