Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: The Believers

With biting wit and beautifully intelligent prose, Zoe Heller has created an unforgettable cast of characters in The Believers. The story encompasses the Litvinoff family, headed by Joel and Audrey after forty years of marriage. Joel is a high-profile New York lawyer who suffers a stroke in the courtroom and is left comatose. Audrey handles the shock, as she does everything in life, with a cool composure and a stinging British tongue. Their children: Rosa, Karla and Lenny are each in the midst of their own personal dramas. Rosa, a political activist, is trying to reconcile her leftist views with a newfound desire to embrace her roots in Judaism, much to her mother's horror. Karla, a social worker, and her husband Mike are just beginning the adoption process when she finds herself falling in love with the man who runs the newspaper shop at the hospital. Lenny, the beloved adopted son, doted on by Audrey, is struggling yet again with heroin addiction.

Heller's writing slices open the complicated roles and relationships among the family when a secret about Joel's past is uncovered. Character development is definitely the strong suit here, as readers get to know the Litvinoffs in the context of their familial roles, which contrast, often very sharply, with the personas we see develop in other social contexts throughout the novel. The family dynamic and its many confrontations often give the reader the feeling they are witnessing a train wreck, unable to avert their eyes. As the novel progresses, Heller brings to light the many dichotomies present in the Litvinoffs' lives: liberal vs. conservative; atheism vs. religiousness; rich vs. poor, while also exploring where each individual falls on the continuum of ideals such as honesty, trust, faithfulness, love and self-respect.

Though critics have said that The Believers is filled with unlovable--even unlikable--characters, it is a very real book about family. And that, I believe, is worthwhile.

Next up for review, I have several choices:

Mornings with Mailer

It All Changed in an Instant

The Queen of Palmyra

Stay tuned!

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