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Heft: A Novel Paperback – September 4, 2012
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*Starred Review* Moore’s endearing novel, following The Words of Every Song (2007), looks at the lives of two solitary characters learning to acknowledge and accept their troubled realities of family and providence. Fifty-eight-year-old Arthur Opp, a college professor turned morbidly obese recluse, lives in a dilapidated house in Brooklyn, where his only human connection is through correspondence with a former student, the vulnerable and lonesome Charlene. When Charlene unexpectedly contacts Arthur with the news that she is the mother of a teenage son, Kel, Arthur is compelled to reflect upon and refocus his life, tenuously striking up a friendship with his young cleaning woman. Meanwhile, Kel is a gifted high-school athlete who depends on his physical prowess to navigate his interpersonal relationships. Kel’s dream of becoming a professional athlete is well within reach, yet his ambition is confounded by his mother’s alcoholism. When Charlene attempts suicide, Kel is left to forge a life of his own. As the book shifts between the perspectives of Arthur and Kel, Charlene’s connection to the two characters reveals surprising junctures along the way. --Leah Strauss --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Arthur Opp is heartbreaking. A 58-year old former professor of literature, he weighs 550 lbs., hasn’t left his Brooklyn apartment in years and is acutely attuned to both the painful and analgesic dimensions of his self-imposed solitude. Kel Keller, a handsome and popular high school athlete whose mother drinks too much to take care of him or even herself, faces his own wrenching struggles. The pair, apparently connected only by a slender thread, at first seem unlikely as co-narrators and protagonists of this novel, but they both become genuine heroes as their separate journeys through loneliness finally intersect. Though Moore’s narrative is often deeply sad, it is never maudlin. She writes with compassion and emotional insight but resists sentimentality , briskly moving her plot forward, building suspense and empathy. Most impressive is her ability to thoroughly inhabit the minds of Arthur and Kel; these are robust, complex characters to champion, not pity. The single word of the title is obviously a reference to Arthur’s morbid obesity, but it also alludes to the weight of true feelings and the courage needed to confront them. Heft leads to hope.”
- People Magazine
“A bittersweet novel, Heft is peopled by men and women so isolated by their fear or rejection, they’ve ceased to seek meaningful connections.”
- Philadelphia Inquirer
“Few novelists of recent memory have put our bleak isolation into words as clearly as Liz Moore does. . . . By the end we are in love with the characters and just want to see them happy.”
- San Francisco Chronicle
“A suspenseful, restorative novel from one of our fine young voices.”
- Colum McCann
“This is not a novel with a happy ending, and that’s a good thing. Moore doesn’t tie her story up in a pretty package and hand it to the reader with care, but artfully acknowledges in the end that some heavy loads cannot easily be left behind.”
- Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“This is the real deal, Liz Moore is the real deal -- she's written a novel that will stick with you long after you've finished it.”
- Russell Banks
“Heft is a work that radiantly combines compassion and a clear eyed vision. This is a novel of rare originality and sophistication.”
- Mary Gordon
“In Heft, Liz Moore creates a cast of vulnerable, lonely misfits that will break your heart and then make it soar. What a terrific novel!”
- Ann Hood
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I loved both characters. Arthur is slightly humorous and shy; Kel, who is eighteen and a high school senior, is trying to find his place in the world. He nearly broke my heart at times because he was so lost. But he faces his difficulties with courage, and at the end I was very happy for him. The same with Arthur who begins to take control of his life.
This is a literary endeavor so the book is about character more than plot. Not that things don't happen. They do. But the author dives deep into the psyches of two lovable and unforgettable characters, and that is what makes this book special.
P.S. Not sure about the title. Never did figure out what it meant.
One could argue Heft is a story about loss, despair, and sadness. Undeniably, these are central aspects to the novel. However, I came away feeling a wonderful lightness -- ironic, when you look at the title. It's an extremely hopeful book, in the end, about all the ways we continue to live and to love, even in the face of gut-wrenching loss.
There's some lovely writing by Liz Moore, who has managed, at a tender age, to speak in the voices of not one but two flawed and believable characters. Here, Arthur Opp, over 500 pounds, and lonely in the Park Slope brownstone where he grew up and now lives by himself, at age 59, describes a very particular brand of empathy:
"Here is what I have always thought: that people, when they eat, are very dear. The eager lips, the flapping jaws, the trembling release of control -- the guilty glances at one's companions or at strangers. The focus, the great focus of eating. The pleasure in it."
Not only is the writing simple and sharp, but the thought is unique, and helps us know Arthur deeply.
The other narrator is an 18 year-old baseball player who is struggling with a loss that fills him with ambivalent emotions. He comes to a realization that frankly stunned me. He is 18 and the author who created him is not much older; together, they express an understanding that I came to only recently at a slightly more advanced age. (Let's just leave it at that.)
"I feel like people are only really dead once you stop learning about them. This is why it is important to me to keep learning about my mother, and what she wanted, and what her life meant, what she meant by the life she led. Then she will be alive, somehow, and her wish for me will have come true. My vow is to learn more about her. To see her as she saw herself."
I'm excited about Liz Moore. Hers is the kind of writing that endures, because it is straightforward and moves us, because its characters, and the lives they lead, the emotions they feel, go directly to our hearts, with a pinpoint accuracy that astonishes. To say I look forward to her next effort is putting it (pardon the pun) lightly.
All the characters are facing serious issues in their lives whether it be isolation, depression or just plain coping in the world. Charlene is the most tragic of the characters. My heart breaks for her but at the same time disgusted by her actions. Kel is an amazing character. He is the reason why I kept reading Heft. For an 18-year-old, he is so incredibly strong. He is flawed but strong and resilient. He is an incredible person who agonizes over taking care of his mother. He has such an incredible burden but handles it so well.
Arthur is a character that I really didn't like. However, I loved Yolanda. She brought him back to reality and made him try to face the world again. She's spunky and loyal which I appreciated.
Overall, I found this book to be very depressing but with a little glimpse of light at the end. I don't think I would have read it if it wasn't a book club selection. However, I did finish it and I'm glad I did.