Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Heft by Liz Moore

Do you order books for your library? If so, please run out and get more of this title and talk it up. The premise may sound unappealing but I promise, the writing is exquisite. It never ceases to amaze me how these young writers, usually women, manage to insinuate themselves into the heads of characters they've likely never known. The talent is mind boggling and Liz Moore has it in spades.

Arthur Opp, a college professor who slowly, painfully, removes himself from society, eating himself up to a hefty 550 pounds, a weight that effectively inhibits his ability to leave his home. His only connection with the outside world is the correspondence that he's been sharing over the years with a former student, Charlene Turner. In his letters Arthur invents a fantasy life for himself, the life he should have had, teaching, socializing, and traveling.

 Letter writing, like our current fascination with Facebook and Twitter, enable Arthur to fake an emotional relationship without any of the hassles that might accompany a touching, feeling, living together situation; the perfect vehicle for an agoraphobic.

But with the terrifyingly insistent ring of the phone, Arthur's proscribed life will be upended forever, if he allows it. After fifteen years, Charlene has called. She hasn't been entirely truthful either, you see. An unemployed alcoholic, chronically depressed, home bound, she despairs of properly raising her teenage boy Kel - oh yes, that's a secret that she's kept from Arthur during their correspondence - and entreats Arthur to meet Kel with an eye toward encouraging him in his studies and impressing upon him the importance of a college education.

Kel is a fantastic character, vulnerable, angry, bright, scared, and Ms. Moore shines in her ability to speak so authentically as both Arthur and Kel, two severely damaged men subconciously begging for rescue. Every secondary character in this outstanding novel is equally well drawn, from the tough, no nonsense cleaning girl, Yolanda, who first opens the windows on Arthur's life, to Kel's friend Lindsay and her family who step in to rescue the struggling young man.

Heft is so full of hope and redemption that one's heart just soars during the reading. All things seem possible even in the midst of such sadness and despair. This book is unique and perfection for those who say they prefer to care about the characters in their books. Believe me, I read hundreds, probably thousands of reviews a month, often groaning at the plethora of same old, same old plots. The depth of compassion, warmth, humor, and truth in Heft renews my faith in the future of literature.

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