17th Aug 2012
Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore
It focuses on the collapse of two fragile lives lived on the fringe, and on attempts to rebuild them.
Arthur Opp is a self-proclaimed ‘colossally fat’ recluse who has been shut in his Brooklyn home for at least a decade.
Kel Keller is a teenage superstar athlete, a poor kid from Yonkers who is admitted to a posh suburban high school when his mother, Charlene, briefly lands her dream job as school secretary.
Arthur met and fell in love with Charlene when he was her college professor decades ago.
She briefly took night classes, intensely focused on education as a means of escape, until she got pregnant with Kel and married his now-absent father.
Long after Charlene and Arthur stop seeing each other – and long after Arthur stops seeing anyone – they continue to write to each other, each the other’s tie to the outside and to the lives they could have lived.
Both Arthur and Kel are outsiders, but manage to cling somewhat comfortably to the edge, each escaping in his own way.
Arthur finds refuge in food, books and his rambling home, while Kel devotes himself to sports and girls.
Kel is worldly and wary, and it’s his key to survival; from his first day in rich-kid school, he figures out the polo-shirt hierarchy, adapts and thrives.
Kel’s defence is to camouflage in plain sight; Arthur, obviously, hides in a much more literal way, as he shutters himself from the world’s judgement.
Charlene, however, eventually knocks both Kel and Arthur out of their comfort zones when she tries to push them together. We have little direct insight into the mind of depressed, thwarted Charlene, but her actions have a huge impact on the people around her, for good or ill.
She’s constantly on the minds of Arthur and Kel, and even in her absence, she’s an inadvertently influential and incredibly moving character.
Heft switches back-and-forth between the viewpoints of the two men, giving both Arthur and Kel first-person narration. This conflict between their two very different narrative voices is the most striking feature of the novel, and makes the slow colliding of their lives – and the dawning acknowledgement of how similar seemingly disparate lives can be – that much more moving.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in self-discovery.