- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Harper (March 3, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006143020X
- ISBN-13: 978-0061430206
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 119 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Believers: A Novel Hardcover – March 3, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Heller (What Was She Thinking?; Notes on a Scandal) puts to pointed use her acute observations of human nature in her third novel, a satire of 1960s idealism soured in the early 21st century. Audrey and Joel Litvinoff have attempted to pass on to their children their lefty passions—despite Audrey's decidedly bourgeois attitude and attorney Joel's self-satisfied heroism, including the defense of a suspected terrorist in 2002 New York City. When Joel has a stroke and falls into a coma, Audrey grows increasingly nasty as his secrets surface. The children, meanwhile, wander off on their own adventures: Rosa's inherited principles are beleaguered by the unpleasant realities of her work with troubled adolescents; Karla, her self-image crushed by Audrey, has settled into an uncomfortable marriage and the accompanying pressure to have children; and adopted Lenny, the best metaphor for the family's troubles, dawdles along as a drug addict and master manipulator. Though some may be initially put off by the characters' coldness—the Litvinoffs are a severely screwed-up crew—readers with a certain mindset will have a blast watching things get worse. (Mar.)
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From The New Yorker
Set in New York City in 2002, with the terror of September 11th still fresh and the confrontation with Iraq starting to take shape, this searing comic novel takes on hypocrisy of all kinds. Joel Litvinoff, a noted radical lawyer, suffers a stroke while in court defending a Muslim man accused of terrorist activity. His hospital room becomes the center of an orbit of women: his wife, Audrey, who clings to the diminishing hope that he will emerge from his coma; his daughters, Rosa and Karla; and Berenice, a photographer with whom he secretly had a child. As with Heller’s previous novel, “What Was She Thinking?,” no one is entirely likable. Audrey is angry and cruel; Rosa priggish; Karla slovenly and timid; Berenice self-satisfied. Heller’s talent lies in the way she illuminates her characters, often with dazzling insight, without making excuses or offering redemption.
Top customer reviews
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Unfortunately, somewhere after the first third of the novel, Heller decided to abandon this line of her story and turned to creating a trite, boring, and repetitive melodrama. The children of the above-mentioned self-righteous leftists are understandably disillusioned by their parents' political agenda and start looking for the meaning of life in drugs, affairs and Orthodox Judaism. Among these three solutions as they are described by Heller, the drug addiction is presented as pretty much the most innocuous one.
We see in The Believers a gifted writer who is somehow too afraid of her own gift to let it flourish. In our patriarchal society, even very talented women obviously have a very hard time believing that they can dedicate their lives to anything other than trivialities. Trivial literature, trivial lives, trivial occupations; women still often see themselves as secondary human beings, secondary writers, and secondary artists. Heller buries her considerable talent in a barrage of trivialities that overwhelm her novel.
Fortify yourselves before meeting Audrey and Joel Litvinoff. They are left-wing liberals and seem to believe in their causes. Naturally, speak to your physician first, and then take some B Complex, Vitamin C and all the immunity-fighting vitamins you are able to tolerate. Believe me, I know these people. I really do!
The `Audreys' on the West Side have the ability to skewer you. They guess your weight, measure your dress size, judge your tastes, and usually have biting wits. If one wants to be entertained, one generally will dine with these people.
When the reader becomes familiar with Audrey, Rosa. Karla, and Lenny, Joel has been felled by a series of Cardio-Vascular Accidents. We come to know Joel, for the most part, through the women in his life. There is Audrey - there is always Audrey. Then, there are the two daughters Rosa and Karla. Rosa is seeking her roots while Karla is, also, on a journey of her own. Lenny, well, Lenny appears to try to stay 'clean.'
There was an almost tender moment between Audrey and Karla that is embedded in my memory. Audrey makes one statement to Karla and with this one statement, Audrey redeems herself. I could have reached into this book and hugged her! Sometimes, Mothers do know what they are talking about. I am purposely not stating too much. Future readers should really read this with knowing as little as possible. Suffice it to state that the reader will be in the hands of a master storyteller.
I highly recommend this intelligent book. It is filled with pathos, as well as how people may become bonded to their intellectual pursuits.