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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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Top Customer Reviews
I'm totally cool with literary stuff that doesn't necessarily follow a typical plot arc, but there were two point-of-view characters in this book, and it was obvious from the get-go that they were both on trajectories to meet and help one another find closure. Except that the book ends literally the moment before they meet. This is probably supposed to be making some sort of statement about how they're now ready to move on or whatever, but... yeah, it totally did not work for me.
This story is told in alternating narratives. One of the narrators is Arthur Op, a morbidly obese 58 year old former professor. Arthur has turned to food for comfort, as his mother once did. He lives by himself in his childhood home and as we read further along we find out about his history and the reason for his alienation and sadness. One of the things we know about Arthur from early on is that he once loved a young woman named Charlene Turner, who had been once been a student of his at the college where he was a professor. They stopped seeing each other (which is explained later on) but since then they have been writing each other letters. Arthur has been lying to Charlene in his letters - making it sound like he has a normal life and a relationship with his family when no such thing exists. He is afraid to tell her the truth.
The other narrator is Kel Turner, a high school kid who's mother is usually drunk or sick. She had been diagnosed with lupus when she was younger, but Kel isn't sure if that's just an excuse for her isolating herself and turning to alcohol. She loves her son very much, and Kel loves her, but he suffers from knowing that his father left him and his mother when he was just a little boy. Kel fantasizes what life would have been like if he had stayed. Kel's mother really wants him to go to college and had arranged for him to go to a high school in a good area - but Kel feels out of place because most of the other kids there are wealthy and privileged, and he keeps his personal life a secret.
Both Arthur and Kel are alienated from those around them. But things change when Arthur gets a housekeeper and must be around another human being for the first time in ten years. And things change for Kel when his mother gets sick. We wonder, hoping as we read on, if somehow, in some way, this man and this boy can somehow become a part of each other's lives and release the loneliness and isolation they've felt for so long.
It is difficult to give a decent summary of this novel without giving away some key spoilers, so I'll leave it at that. I do want to say that this book was a page-turne for me from the moment I read the first sentence. The author has managed to articulate the voices of both a 58 year old man and a teenage boy, and both feel accurate and so real.
I really enjoyed this novel. It is a psychologically astute observation of these two people and of those around them. It is full of heart and hope. The only reason this wasn't 5 stars was to me was because of the storyline in the last part of the novel, but I don't want to discourage anyone from reading something as good as this.