July 29, 2009

BOOKS: The Believers, Zoe Heller (2009)

A New York lawyer has a stroke, and his family begins to crack under the strain. That's really all there is to Heller's novel, but the characters are so precisely drawn and the writing so viciously witty that we don't need much more.

The Litvinoff family matriarch, Audrey, is a nasty piece of work, cold and uncaring, with never a kind word for anyone, so it's not surprising that each of the three Litvinoff children is massively screwed up. Rosa has spent years drifting from one chic revolutionary cause to another, and has currently convinced herself that perhaps she should return to the family roots by becoming an Orthodox Jew. Karla finds herself increasingly attracted to a local newspaper stand operator, even as she and her husband embark upon the process of adopting a child. Lenny has the occasional period of responsibility, but his drug addiction means that they never last too long.

These four characters dealing with the stress of Joel's illness are all that Heller needs, and I wish she'd left out the silly soap-opera nonsense about the woman who reveals a Secret From Joel's Past (if you don't have the secret figured out by the end of the page on which she appears, then you haven't watched nearly enough bad movies); it's unnecessary clutter.

Still, The Believers is terrifically entertaining, a ruthless look at a family whose members seem incapable of growing up.

No comments: