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The Believers: A Novel Paperback – January 19, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
Now, a lot of readers prefer their characters to be in black or white; saints or villains. Heller novels are not for these readers; if you must identify with and "root" for a character when you read a novel, skip this one.
But if you appreciate a juicy satire full of complex characters, intellectual contradictions and disturbing choices, you're sure to enjoy "The Believers" as much as I did.
The Believers is a character-driven satire of a novel, written with psychological insight and, at times, biting humor. Author Heller displays a fine mastery of dialog, wit, and irony. There is not a single extraneous word between these covers. The Litvinoffs, among themselves, have enough emotional problems to support an army of mental health workers. No one, no matter how loved, is spared the vitriol of Audrey's zingers, and gradually, the wellspring of her bitterness reveals itself. While it is often uncomfortable to read about their inner turmoil, injections of sanity are provided by supporting characters, most notably Audrey's friend Jean and mother-in-law Hannah, and Karla's friend Khaled. Heller makes the uneasiness well worthwhile with a brilliant, authentic ending. Perhaps she'll write more about these people; I certainly hope that's the case.
Audrey Litvinoff, the matriarch, is a flinty, pained woman with a major character disorder. While her husband lies in a coma, she is told some uncomfortable news about his dirty little secrets. With a kind of acerbic, acid aplomb, she spins into a denial that threatens to unravel her. As it is, she is wound so tight that I felt my own circulation threatening to block off. But she is so exuberant that I was often reeling in her energy. She is staggered by her own wretchedness and projects it onto those around her. She is especially harsh to her own daughters, but overprotects and enables her drug-addicted son.
Her daughters, Karla and Rosa, are choked by their mother's dominance and have no sense of their own identity. Karla lives in her husband's shadow and Rosa seeks a self through Orthodox Judaism. Audrey's son, Lenny, could be reductively defined as a spoiled, angry brat. He is certainly a lost soul--a weak, spineless, selfish son of his mother (although he was adopted).
Heller's prose is so muscular it punctures the air, it leaves streaks of blood on your fingers as you turn the pages. I had an out and out blast reading this novel. It is lofty, but wet and juicy and wholly entertaining. The pages flowed with as much alacrity as her narrative. It nearly singed my fingers.
This is my first Heller novel. Some reviewers complain that her characters are not likable. Well, paradoxically, I don't necessarily like a character that is likable. I like them vivid and buzzing and original. Audrey leaps out of the novel and claws your face--and I still had empathy for her. I was moved by her and the events of this story. This is one author that has made a believer out of me.
The author probably had to do so much research that she forgot to also create a plot. Nothing much happens in the book.
While most characters are believable (with the exception of the main character, the matron of a dysfunctional family who is so mean it's unclear why anyone still satellites around her), the story is slow and tedious.
On top of everything, the characters often speak like English people! They say thing like "don't let's" and "you mustn't" which aren't used in daily talk in America.
Heller's other book "Notes on a Scandal" set in her native London offers much subtler and more effective social commentary.
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