Thursday, March 19, 2009

make me a believer

Zoe Heller pictured here and heard here, has written a beauty of a book that I'm a bit late on.
I've tracked it a bit, but have delayed the proverbial two cents.
But the Believers is really my kind of stuff.
I'm a sucker for the political novel insofar as it can so readily illustrate how we live and choose to live.
Unless you have David Lodge's singular gift for storytelling, most of our hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments inevitably cleave to our politics whether we acknowledge it or not.
What we believe and how we live are the meat of the modern novel and British author Zoe Heller works those rooms very well indeed.
The relationship between Audrey and Joel appears based on a shared revolutionary zeal, even as they barrel into the second half of their lives, complete with three children and a status that comes with the perception in certain quarters of having hung onto their ideals rather than becoming acquisitive suburbanites.
Joel is a lefty lawyer in post 9/11 New York who while defending a "person of interest" has a stroke in the courtroom and spends rest of the book in a coma.
Audrey and Joel have three kids who serve as fodder for her scorn and exasperation at the outset, but each of them struggle under her glare, and fitfully come into their own.
Rosa a socialist who is searching for a new faith, Lenny, an adopted cross addict and worse, politically disconnected son,--and Karla, the dutiful daughter largely unhappy in both her married and professional life, round out the major players.
Anyone who has ever disappointed a parent or who can privately admit that their kids aren't up to par will find a monstrous guilty pleasure in devouring the exchanges between Karla and Audrey.
As Joel is offstage, it's Audrey who is the fulcrum on which this comic and affecting tale rests.
Her ball of resentments and disappointments, her refusal to see anything in a non-political construct, and her reaction to the grenade tossed into her life by a woman claiming to have a child by Joel years earlier drive the book.
Audrey is a fantastic creation, the kind of fully drawn character I'm sure most novelists have in mind when they start their book; but sweat blood to create.
Some reviewers have noted some similarities to Clare Messud's novel from a few years back, the Emperor's Children and that's a valid point.
I was more than ready to like the Believers on it's own merits, but such comparison only added to my impatience for Heller's book to arrive.
It's a bit more comedic and despite the mess these characters create, Heller keeps all of them in check and maintains a lightness throughout.
It's a balance that satisfies almost entirely.

Posted by David

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