Friday, February 19, 2010

The Believers by Zoe Heller

My mother used to remark on our odd habit of watching TV shows about people we wouldn’t want to live next door to. Reality TV hadn’t been invented when she said this; I think she was talking about All in the Family. But this book reminded me of what she said. The characters in this book are so unlikeable, yet at the same time so completely entertaining, that I couldn’t stop reading about them even though I really wouldn’t want to know them personally. The family, the Litvinoffs, are rude, self absorbed, and totally dysfunctional. The shrewish mother Audrey enables the 30-ish son in his continued drug addiction. The obese daughter, filled with self-hatred (compliments of her cold, overly critical mother) stays married to a controlling sycophant while engaging in an inexplicable affair with someone equally repellent. Through it all the father, Joel, lies in a post-stroke vegetative state in a New York hospital, where he is visited by his African American mistress and their illegitimate son. Wait till you get to the scene where she and Audrey accidently arrive at the same time! It’s like something on Jerry Springer (not that I ever watch that show).

Don’t worry, I haven’t nearly given everything away. I am making this book sound like trash, but it really isn’t – it’s very good. It’s funny and interesting and unique. Zoe Heller has a knack for writing excellent books about unpleasant situations. Her book What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal is about an affair between a female teacher and a very young teenage boy. That was also a great read. Both these books are evidence that a good writer can turn off-putting material into a thought-provoking book. Heller is brave to tackle these plots and I admire her for it, and enjoy the results.

(Book 9, 2010)


Eidin said...

I enjoyed this book, too. I especially liked the paradoxical views of religion and political ideology (liberalism) that were explored.

Amused said...

I am so glad to hear this book was good as I loved Notes on a Scandal and can't wait till I can get my hands on copy!

herschelian said...

That mother was just ghastly, one of the most dislikeable characters I've ever come across in any book - I completely empathise with your mother's comment about watching tv shows about people you wouldn't want to have as neighbours. The book left a rather nasty taste in my mouth, and I felt rather depressed after reading it. Perhaps that is why it succeeds as a novel.

Sasha said...

I just put up my thoughts on the book over at my blog, and I agree with pretty much everything you said. These were incredibly annoying characters--but I loved the book. It had me scratching my head, to tell you the truth. But it was all good; Heller writes so well, I think.

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