For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our sixth book is Heft by Liz Moore and the review is written by Reka Paul.
There are many different kinds of loneliness in this world, but in truth they all feel the same. Arthur Opp, who weighs 550 pounds and never leaves his house is as lonely as the high school senior Kel Keller who has many friends but no one to turn to when in trouble. These are the two main characters of Liz Moore’s “Heft” (2012), a heartrending novel which shows us that being satisfied with your life is not quite the same as being happy.
The heavily overweight Arthur and the sporty high school heartthrob Kel do not have much more in common apart from their loneliness. Except perhaps for Charlene, Kel’s mother and Arthur’s former sweetheart who is very dear to both of them. A letter from Charlene reconnects Arthur, her past, with Kel, her present, and uncovers many problems that have been lingering in their lives. The former literature professor Opp retreats into his family’s house, surrounded by painful as well as pleasant memories, does not allow anyone into his small world besides the deliverymen but keeps telling himself that this is the life he wants and needs. Kel is being pushed by his sick mother to seek for a better life, a life that she always wanted but never found, a life of education and well-being, away from their old neighborhood, maybe in the brighter parts of New York. In accordance with her wishes he attends the high school in a far better off area and makes friends with the rich kids but never forgets where he comes from, the darker dirtier streets of Yonkers.
Where Arthur leads us to reflect about the boundaries between comfortableness and laziness and the temptation of having no obligations in life, Kel on the other hand shows us how it feels to be accepted and liked by everyone, which seems so desirable until his mother gets worse and he cannot confide in any of his so called friends.
Moore tells their stories separately, Arthur’s on the one side, his every day’s struggle to walk from the living room to the kitchen and his ideas for meals. Kel’s story on the other, his plans for the future, his worries for his mother, his yearning for a father he never had. The stories start to intertwine when Charlene catches up with her pen pal Opp and asks him for help with her son’s future.
Slowly both characters develop, firstly by admitting their problems, famously the most important step towards facing them and gain new friends or recover old friendships. Both find out in their own way, that even though they had insisted for a long time that they were satisfied with their lives, they had not been happy. For though many things can bring us satisfaction, but only few can bring us true happiness.
Apart from the deep insights into their worlds and thoughts, which brings us Arthur and Kel close enough to forgive them almost anything, but just almost, we still cannot get through to all the supporting characters. In a sense Arthur’s new friend Yolanda and Kel’s high school friends stay shallow acquaintances to the reader, shadows in the background whose impact we feel but whose driving stays hidden to us, even though one cannot but desire to get to know them better.
What Moore wants to tell is surely that people need people, that loneliness can be overcome and that two people as different as Arthur and Kel can have things in common. Enough to be a spark of hope, in form of a letter, a picture and a call. The two stories are not told with great drama but rather gently with much concern for the characters’ personal desires and struggles. We follow them both close up and for a long time leading up to their encounter. For though as little as we know the other characters, as much we do know about Arthur and Kel and throughout the story one cannot help but feel and struggle along with them and keep up the hope for them to overcome their loneliness and to transform a just quite satisfying life little by little into a happier one.
Written by Reka Paul