In an interview for Image magazine in 1997, I asked Hassler about the origin of his Catholic worldview. He responded, “I’m indebted to those first few grades in parochial school for teaching me that everything in life is connected.” A bit later he added, “I guess maybe I see life as a whole.” It is part of Hassler’s gift, throughout his career, to see life as a whole, juxtaposing events and characters, thus yielding new meanings and interrelationships, making the entire work appear to fly. In a word, Hassler’s style is not “magic realism” but realism magically transformed.
Again and again Hassler transforms the banality of evil into Flannery O’Connor-type characters and events. A crazed woman kills a burnt-out teacher; a brilliant teacher stricken by multiple sclerosis turns psychotic in his despondency; an unloved juvenile delinquent is crushed beneath a walk-in cooler like the Wicked Witch beneath Dorothy’s Kansas cottage. But like St. Augustine, who speaks of God’s love treating “each of us as an only child,” Hassler (who includes many only children in his fiction) treats every character in that way. Jon Hassler discovers God’s presence in everyday life, as his novels throw a grace-filled light upon caring teachers, open-hearted wives and lovers, priests and spinsters””and a latchkey child who responds to an old man’s need for friendship and for love.