Monday, July 27, 2009

BOOK REVIEW - "The Believers" by Zoe Heller

Since reading The Secret I've had a hard time getting my engine running in the book department. It's like it frightened me away from the written word. I'm not trying to be dramatic here; it really was that bad.

Happily, I have rediscovered my love of reading.

The Believers, written by Zoe Heller, takes place shortly after 9/11 and centres around the family of Joel and Audrey Litvinoff (he, a celebrated lawyer - a fighter for the underdog, who cares deeply for each of his clients, and she, his acerbic and passionately socialist wife).
Very early in the book Joel collapses in court, where he is meant to defend a terrorist suspect, and falls into a coma. What follows is...not what I expected.

Because of the setting of the book (New York, post 9/11) and its title, I thought the story would have the characters struggling harder with their political and religious beliefs. We do meet Rosa, the youngest of Joel and Audrey's children, who after 30 years of believing in an even more extreme socialism than her parents, decides to explore her Jewish background, much to her atheist parents' chagrin. I was never quite sure what was drawing Rosa to the Orthodox faith, but I enjoyed going on the journey with her regardless.

But the other two children (Karla, the unhappily married and unhappily overweight eldest daughter, and Lenny, the drug-addicted adopted son) make personal journeys that have only to do with relationship issues and drug addiction recovery.

As for Audrey, we forgive her her cruel and unusual way with the doctors when Joel has first fallen comatose, because we know she's grieving. As months pass, however, we learn that these first glimpses of Audrey Litvinoff have not been atypical, and that even her best friend Jean is a constant brunt of her insults, not to mention her children. Karla almost welcomes her mother's callous comments about her weight, comforting in their familiarity. I like Audrey for her honesty, but am baffled by her still being on speaking terms with all three children, and actually having a friend in Jean, ever caring and kind even in the face of Audrey's brutal attacks.

Having said all that, I loved this book. Heller's prose is some of the most clever and veracious that I've ever read. I found myself eagerly awaiting the next brilliant line, the next fully realized character. And I was never disappointed. Though I was expecting a cleverly costumed forum for Heller's political and religious beliefs, all I got was a great story with well-drawn characters, that kept me coming back for more. I was disappointed by the ending, but I think that's only because I didn't want it to end.

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