Friday, November 21, 2008

The Believers by Zoe Heller

The Believers by Zoe Heller

March 2009; HarperCollins Publishers

I started off not liking this book. To be honest I despised the characters, hated them for their self-indulgence and prejudices for all they protested to be anti-discriminatory. They seemed to have little insight into themselves. But when I read the book again, and maybe, to be honest, I grew up a little, they seemed like people I know. We are born with the gift of insight and self-review; if we choose not to use that is our own problem. It doesn’t make us bad people, just willfully ignorant. This lack of insight by the characters made them much more sad to me but also much more real. I felt for Audrey, trying to keep her family intact and moving forward, when she didn’t know how to be a loving caring mother. I felt for Joel who needed to feel young and alive by creating a child with his mistress and then leaving his wife to pick up the pieces when he died. I cried for Lenny, the adopted son, who did not have enough faith in himself to make a life-saving decision. The characters that you feel the most dislike for are the ones that you champion at the end of the novel

This book is a sad commentary on modern life. For all of our modern conveniences we really are asking ourselves the same questions that our forefathers asked themselves. How does one deal with infidelity? How does one rediscover dampened religious beliefs and incorporate them into an uncooperative family? How does one go about reinventing themselves?

The most pleasurable thing about this book is that the characters aren’t static. Those that start out as bullies and villains at the beginning of the book are championed at the end of the book. I began the book not liking Audrey at all, wanting to blame her for the family’s problems but when the book ended I cried for her. It is not easy to care for your children and have to stand by as they direct their own life. There were times that she was brutal and cold but children cannot be babied forever. Especially grown children.

I do have one bone to pick with this book. I don’t think that the character of Lenny was as developed as the characters and I would have liked to learn more about him. What we do get is great reading but in the end really not much insight at all.


From the Publisher

When New York radical lawyer Joel Litvinoff is felled by a sudden, massive stroke, his wife, Audrey, uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine both her belief in him and her commitment to their forty-year marriage. Meanwhile, her ne’er-do-well adopted son, Lenny, is back on drugs again and her daughters, Karla and Rosa, are grappling with their own dilemmas. Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary socialist, has found herself increasingly beguiled by the world of Orthodox Judaism; now she is being pressed to make a commitment and must decide if she is really ready to forsake all her cherished secular values for a Torah-observant life. Karla, an unhappily married hospital social worker and union activist, falls into a tumultuous affair with a conservative newstand proprietor: can she really love a man whose politics she reviles? And how to choose between a life of duty and principle and her own happiness?
The highly anticipated new novel from the author of the acclaimed What Was She Thinking? Notes On a Scandal (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and adapted into an Oscar-nominated film) delivers on every level: with wit, heart, and -- as always with Zoƫ Heller --tremendous intelligence and verve.

Publishers Weekly

Heller (What Was She Thinking?; Notes on a Scandal) puts to pointed use her acute observations of human nature in her third novel, a satire of 1960s idealism soured in the early 21st century. Audrey and Joel Litvinoff have attempted to pass on to their children their lefty passions-despite Audrey's decidedly bourgeois attitude and attorney Joel's self-satisfied heroism, including the defense of a suspected terrorist in 2002 New York City. When Joel has a stroke and falls into a coma, Audrey grows increasingly nasty as his secrets surface. The children, meanwhile, wander off on their own adventures: Rosa's inherited principles are beleaguered by the unpleasant realities of her work with troubled adolescents; Karla, her self-image crushed by Audrey, has settled into an uncomfortable marriage and the accompanying pressure to have children; and adopted Lenny, the best metaphor for the family's troubles, dawdles along as a drug addict and master manipulator. Though some may be initially put off by the characters' coldness-the Litvinoffs are a severely screwed-up crew-readers with a certain mindset will have a blast watching things get worse.

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