I got a copy of Heft by chance in a Twitter competition run by Windmill Books. And it’s lucky I did, because the book is fantastic, a great example of why good literature doesn’t need fancy words and complex themes to grip a reader. Heft is the story of the grossly obese Arthur Opp, a former professor who hasn’t left his house for many years, and Kel Keller, a popular, promising baseball star whose mother, Charlene Turner, once knew Arthur. Though Arthur and Charlene were penpals for many years, Arthur hasn’t received a letter for a long time when Charlene rings out of the blue and asks if Arthur would consider tutoring her son.
Suddenly, a crack of light enters Arthur’s gloomy and solitary existence. He hopes to rekindle his relationship with Charlene and fantasises that her son too might eventually become part of his life. So begins a new chapter in Arthur’s life, and in Kel’s, but not in a way that either of them could ever have imagined. Heft is about relationships – our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with the wider world and our relationships with those who we love and who love us, however imperfectly.
When I began this book, I was suffering from reader’s fatigue. I’d read a lot of demanding books recently and was feeling generally a bit out of sorts. I wanted something soothing, comforting, but still gripping. I picked up a couple of books on my ‘to be read’ shelf and read a page or so before putting them back, feeling ungripped and disheartened. Where is the book I am seeking? Ah, here it is. Thanks Liz Moore.
Liz Moore, author of The Words of Every Song, is a very natural writer – her characters are effortlessly loveable and their lives have an inescapable authenticity. Arthur Opp is noble, vulnerable and eloquent. Kel is mature before his time and yet poignantly childlike. Charlene, the woman who threads their two lives together, is exasperating, yet it is hard not to care for her, to want her to do better, to want to shake her and put her on the right track.
So much of the book is about wasted opportunities, wasted time and the potentially corrosive effect of painful memories. It seems to lament the way that previous mistakes make people hesitant, cowardly and unsure. It celebrates togetherness and the joy of having love in your life, but it never mocks or turns its nose up at those who are alone and unhappy. In fact, it celebrates them.
Liz Moore digs beneath the surface of the obese recluse and the dynamic young baseball star and reveals their hidden depths. As it turns out, Kel Keller and Arthur Opp have more in common than would first appear and I was gripped by Moore’s analysis. I began to look forward to my tube journeys every day when I was reading this, which is always a sign that a book is good.
Moore says, “I am obsessed with the rhythm of my sentences—especially the rhythm of their endings” and this is an obsession that pays off for me. The prose in Heft has a loveliness that lifts its sad subject matter until it sounds like poetry – not the hard, dry, wordy stuff that makes schoolkids turn their noses up but the kind that speaks to you, the kind that illuminates the banal. Moore calls Heft ‘a homage to loneliness’, which sounds apt to me, but the book is not depressing – more haunting, a testament to the fact that there is more than one kind of unhappiness in the world and that there tends to be more to everyone than what they outwardly project to the world.