Title: HeftAuthor: Liz Moore
Publication Year: 2012
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Edition: eGalleySource: Net Galley
Setting: New York
Date Completed: 1/9/2012Rating: 4.5/5
Heft is a wonderful story that will make you want to rethink what the word "family" really means.
Arthur Opps once was a college professor, but that was 18 years ago. Now, Arthur is a 58 year-old shut in who weighs in excess of 500 lbs. His best friend, who lived next door, passed away in 1997, and the last time Arthur has left his house in Brooklyn was in September 2001. The internet has made his reclusive life easy, since food and anything else he needs is delivered right to his front door. He has no family, no friends, no job, and no one to talk to, so over the years, his only comfort has come from the food he consumes, and occasional letters from a former student named Charlene Turner, who was 20 years younger than him.
Charlene and Arthur were two lost souls. Both were sad and lonely people, who spent hours talking over the course of the semester. When the class was finished, Charlene never took another course, but began to write Arthur letters. First he was rather shocked, but when he lost his job soon after, to him she seemed like the only friend he had.
(Arthur)...."And partly it was that I recognized myself in her---in her awkwardness, her loneliness, her being very out of place, an outsider in a roomful of compatriots. These feelings I recognized as my own. She spoke differently than her classmates. She had that accent, which I came to love, and that hopefulness that won me completely. One of the things I loved most about her, what I valued, was her lack of awareness."
Then abruptly the letters stopped, until one day many years later she contacts Arthur to reveal a little more about her life, and to ask him a favor. Her son Kel Keller, who is in high school is in need of some guidance, and since Arthur was the smartest man she had ever known, she asks that he help point her son in the right direction. On the surface, Kel seems to have a lot going for him, but he is dealing with some difficult issues which he tries to conceal from others.
Suddenly, Arthur's spirits seem brighter at the possibility of seeing Charlene again after almost 20 years. He hires a cleaning service to get his house in shape, and when 19 year-old Yolanda shows up, he finds himself looking forward to the days she cleans and their conversations which follow. Little by little life seems a bit brighter for Arthur.
The way in which the story unfolds is not perfect, but I cared so much about the characters that I was able to overlook any flaws in the story structure. The story alternates between Arthur's story, and Kel Keller's story. Both stories are heartbreaking at times. Heft, was one of my favorite kinds of novels, complete with dysfunctional, but well developed characters that I was cheering on all the way. It's a story that made me rethink what a "family" really is, and a story that left me feeling at least somewhat hopeful. It's a page-turner.