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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.
“A suspenseful, restorative novel from one of our fine young voices.” (Colum McCann)
“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)
“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)
“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)
“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
"The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat. When I knew you I was what one might call plump but I am no longer plump. I eat what I want & furthermore I eat whenever I want. For years I have made very little effort to reduce the amount that I eat for I have seen no cause to. Despite this I am neither immobile nor bedridden but I do feel winded when I walk more than six or seven steps, & I do feel very shy and sort of incased in something as if I were a cello or an expensive gun."
The fact that he weights somewhere between 500-600 pounds is just the beginning of Arthur's confession. He states, "In my letters to you these past two decades I have been untruthful by omission." He admits that not only has he not taught in years, but that he hasn't left his house in over a decade. He ends the lengthy missive, "In spite of everything, at heart I am still the same Arthur.
I'm going to stop right here and suggest there may be two kinds of reader responses to Arthur Opp, sympathy or revulsion. My immediate response was sympathy for this lonely man who fantasizes about salvation in the form of Dr. Phil. If your immediate response was revulsion, this is not the book for you.
As it happens, Charlene hasn't been entirely truthful about the details of her own life. And because so many stories follow predictable and formulaic patterns, early on in this novel I thought I knew the story I was reading. I thought it would be one of those heart-warming tales of two lonely people finding love and community. And it was and it wasn't that. I was delighted that author Liz Moore surprised me at many turns, and her story didn't follow the predictable path. Not entirely. There were notable divergences that gave the novel additional substance.
Heft really is a novel full of heart with flawed characters it was easy to fall in love with. The tale moved quickly. The characters were very well-developed and believable. I remained engrossed throughout and was satisfied at the end. Heft is nothing more than a good story, but that's plenty enough for me.
Arthur Opp's lonely existence has manifested itself in an eating disorder that has made him obscenely obese. Once a college professor, he has become a reclusive shut-in. The unbearable sadness of his life will tear at the strings of your heart. However, the reader will also experience repugnance at his weakness, his inability to fight for anything that might bring him redemption. He wallows in his own Shakespearean tragedy.
Charlene, is a lost soul who has spent her life dreaming of a world that she is ill equipped to live in. Her final dissent into a world of alcoholic escapism is tragic, but predictable. Somehow this ghost of a person has managed to raise a boy that personifies all of the possibilities that she herself never possessed.
Charlene's son Kell,a survivor, may yet achieve his dreams. Certainly, he has the strength of character, and the talent to reshape his destiny. But, can he escape his own demons?
Moore has created a beautifully written novel about these three disparate characters, and what becomes of them. Who will rise above the abyss that fate has delivered to them? The story is a reminder that though you cannot choose your family, you can choose your friends.
Arthur Opps once was a college professor, but that was 18 years ago. Now, Arthur is a 58 year-old shut in who weighs in excess of 500 lbs. His best friend, who lived next door, passed away in 1997, and the last time Arthur has left his house in Brooklyn was in September 2001. The internet has made his reclusive life easy, since food and anything else he needs is delivered right to his front door. He has no family, no friends, no job, and no one to talk to, so over the years, his only comfort has come from the food he consumes, and occasional letters from a former student named Charlene Turner, who was 20 years younger than him.
Charlene and Arthur were two lost souls. Both were sad and lonely people, who spent hours talking over the course of the semester. When the class was finished, Charlene never took another course, but began to write Arthur letters. First he was rather shocked, but when he lost his job soon after, to him she seemed like the only friend he had.
(Arthur)...."And partly it was that I recognized myself in her---in her awkwardness, her loneliness, her being very out of place, an outsider in a roomful of compatriots. These feelings I recognized as my own. She spoke differently than her classmates. She had that accent, which I came to love, and that hopefulness that won me completely. One of the things I loved most about her, what I valued, was her lack of awareness."
Then abruptly the letters stopped, until one day many years later she contacts Arthur to reveal a little more about her life, and to ask him a favor. Her son Kel Keller, who is in high school is in need of some guidance, and since Arthur was the smartest man she had ever known, she asks that he help point her son in the right direction. On the surface, Kel seems to have a lot going for him, but he is dealing with some difficult issues which he tries to conceal from others.
Suddenly, Arthur's spirits seem brighter at the possibility of seeing Charlene again after almost 20 years. He hires a cleaning service to get his house in shape, and when 19 year-old Yolanda shows up, he finds himself looking forward to the days she cleans and their conversations which follow. Little by little life seems a bit brighter for Arthur.
The way in which the story unfolds is not perfect, but I cared so much about the characters that I was able to overlook any flaws in the story structure. The story alternates between Arthur's story, and Kel Keller's story. Both stories are heartbreaking at times. Heft, was one of my favorite kinds of novels, complete with dysfunctional, but well developed characters that I was cheering on all the way. It's a story that made me rethink what a "family" really is, and a story that left me feeling at least somewhat hopeful. It's a page-turner.