I often felt like a voyeur while reading Liz Moore’s novel “Heft” (W.W. Norton, 2012).
The book afforded me an opportunity to eavesdrop and peek in the windows of the two-story Brooklyn home of Arthur Opp and the house of Kel Keller in the fictional city of Pells Landing. The realism of the characters’ conversations and the things they were thinking about felt so real that I instantly felt connected to both protagonists.
To be sure, it is hard at first to relate to Arthur – he weighs 550 pounds and hasn’t left his house in 10 years. In fact, he hasn’t even been able to go upstairs in his own home for most of those years. In his late 50s, Arthur spends the bulk of his time ordering products and food online, and reminiscing about his love for a former student, Charlene. He yearns to connect once again with Charlene but has trouble reaching her.
Kel, on the other hand, Charlene’s only child, has a complicated home life. His mother is an alcoholic who wants him to go to college, but Kel – a senior in high school – wants to play pro-
fessional baseball. He speculates on the identity of his father and visits friends both near his upscale school and in his original hometown of Yonkers, in a working-class neighborhood. Kel is truly a conflicted young man, dealing not just with the competing pull of college versus baseball, but torn between his mother and unknown father and between his friends and their lifestyles in Pells Landing and Yonkers.
This is a lovely book that delves deeply and sensitively into its two primary characters. Arthur and Kel are so alike on the inside – profoundly lonely and searching for family, friends, home and a chance to grow. Yet they are quite different on the outside, as Kel, unlike Arthur, is young, good-looking, athletic and popular in school.
Despite the characters’ loneliness, “Heft” never feels depressing. Instead, it proves uplifting to witness how Arthur and Kel break out of their respective isolation and take their first steps toward real friendships.
My only complaint is that I would have loved to see the story progress a bit more at the end.
This would be an excellent selection for book clubs that enjoy stories about unusual families and people.
Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.