Heft is, at its core, a book about love, loss and family. The book gets its title from two aspects, firstly, one of the central characters Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and is entirely housebound and secondly the book touches very heavily on the burdens that people carry around from day to day. Arthur has lived alone and been stuck inside since the shame that saw him leave his university job, he hates his life and yet fears the changes he would need to make to life this burden.
20 miles away, Kel Keller is seen to be growing as a regular 17 year old boy. He’s popular, athletic and handsome, but his burden is his Mother, Charlene. Charlene was once a student of Arthur Opp and is now an alcoholic on the verge of suicide. Kel must look after his Mother while juggling the daily strains of teenage life. However, it’s not long before Arthur and Kel find themselves being drawn into each other’s lives and changes will occur.
It’s safe to say that much of Heft can be seen as rather bleak. The reader pities Arthur and his reclusive life and we yearn for him to venture outside once more and hold his head high. Arthur has always kept in touch with Charlene via letter. They have both continuously lied to each other about the quality of their lives and a letter arrives from Charlene asking Arthur to help Kel with his college applications. Now Arthur knows he must face his past and come clean to the life he now leads.
While the title refers mainly to Arthur, much of the book actually depicts the life of Kel. We watch as this successful young man ventures out every day and tries to win the heart of a girl he adores and we journey with him as he must shake his mother awake and put her to bed each night. Kel is utterly endearing and is a charming character to read. As his story plays out he makes decisions that the audience won’t understand and I found myself shaking my head at his actions because I grew to like him so much.
Much the same can be said for Arthur, who is also tremendously engaging. Both characters seem to mirror each other in their decision making, running away from their problems and trying to deal with them on their own rather than reaching out. It’s genuinely heartbreaking when Kel arrives home to find his mother unconscious next to an empty bottle of pills or as Arthur piles his plates high with cakes and pastries in order to bury his shame. These are two broken men and their journeys are wonderful.
It’s in the supporting characters that Kel and Arthur find their solace and the audience finds a voice. When Arthur hires a maid to spruce up his house, we meet Yolanda who forces Arthur to straighten himself out, doesn’t hold back her words and pushes him to get out of his four walls. Then we have Lindsay, the object of Kel’s affection who is constantly trying to make Kel break the bottle in which his feelings are kept. Each of these strong, and young, women are the breath of fresh air that each man needs. They represent what we the reader wants to say to these seemingly hopeless characters.
Heft is a coming of age story, even for the older Arthur Opp. Every feeling and emotion is explored through Liz Moore’s prose. Liz is very gifted at building a character and indeed the world around them. New York jumps to life from the pages as does each voice. Her ability to deliver an intricate backstory to her cast without bogging the reader down is also a touch of brilliance.
However it is Moore’s narrative choice where Heft loses a point for me. Moore uses a few writing styles to depict each character as they self narrate their lifeand they can be rather jarring at times. Her actual choice of words and syntax is lovely but I wish she had used a different narrative touch.
Also, though I loved this aspect, it is worth me pointing out that the book features Baseball very heavily. Perhaps not as much as The Art of Fielding, but as Kel is the star player of his school some readers may find a few sections a little long winded.
I was very impressed by the novel and found myself not wanting it to end. The final pages are a little abrupt and at first I was disappointed but after time began to enjoy that Moore stopped when she did. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading emotionally broken characters, involving environments and inspiring stories.
Published by Hutchinson. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.