Wednesday, February 29, 2012

HEFT by Liz Moore

    “Powerful, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive.”  Yes, that’s an excellent way of describing Liz Moore’s second novel.  Yet, one cannot overlook her graceful prose, imagination and characters so finely drawn that we find ourselves hoping, wishing, somehow willing their happiness.

    The narrative is divided between two, first Arthur Opp, a 550 pound former professor who has not left his parents’ home in some ten years.  He has discovered how to have the necessities delivered to his door.  The home is commodious, a three floor  Brooklyn Brownstone.  As he says, “There are nice things on the upper floors I suppose but I haven’t seen them in a decade.  I have no reason to go up there.  I couldn’t if I tried. 

    He is alone.  No one visits; the phone does not ring.  His only contacts have been a few letters exchanged with former student, Charlene Turner.  She was a bit of an oddity at his school, self-concious, not dressed like the others but full of dreams.  For a while Arthur and Charlene become companions, perhaps drawn together by their mutual lack of self-esteem and alienation.  He takes her to museums, to plays, teaches her, and then they grow apart.

    The second narrator is Kel Keller, Charlene’s teenage son who loves baseball and wants to be a major league player.  But, he’s torn, often exhausted by and resentful of the care his alcoholic mother requires and their house on the wrong side of the tracks. Not only is it in a rundown section of Yonkers but it is often dark and cold because his mother cannot afford to pay the bills. Yet Kel is accepted at a prestigious school where he soon fits in due to his athletic prowess.  He’s puzzled yet drawn to the well to-do families he comes to know.  When he visits their homes he feels “like an intruder, like somebody staking something out.”

    As the connection between these three develops we again recognize the author’s ability to not only draw vivid true to life characters but also to make them  matter.  And matter they do for few of us will forget Arthur, Charlene or Kel and the life stories they have shared.

    - Gail Cooke

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