At NYT Books:
Like a ferocious bulletin from an alternate universe — tumbling, pell-mell, brilliant and strange — comes this explosive and discomfiting fifth novel by Carolyn Chute. Form doesn’t just follow feeling in these pages, it chases it helplessly with a butterfly net, casting about in multiple directions, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. But watching Chute miss what she’s after is more interesting than watching a lesser, better behaved writer catch tidier prey.
“The School on Heart’s Content Road” is as idiosyncratic as it is engaging. A mythopoetics of the Second Amendment isn’t exactly common in modern American literary fiction. But neither is the depiction of contemporary American poverty: of the slow, relentless grind of never quite having enough, of the leaching of hope and ambition from those for whom a job at Wal-Mart is a rare opportunity, of the impossible double-bind choices made by the poor every day. This is a beautiful novel, a polemical novel, a messy novel. It’s a love song to a part of America that doesn’t have much of a voice, and is armed. Chute is such an extraordinary, vivid, empathic writer that it would be tempting to swoon into the love and overlook the bullets. To do that, however, would also be to dim the considerable power here: if the despair and the tenderness are real, so are the guns.