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Audie Award Nominee, Literary Fiction, 2013
A heartwarming novel about larger-than-life characters and second chances....
Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn’t left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career - if he can untangle himself from his family drama. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel’s mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur’s. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene’s unexpected phone call to Arthur - a plea for help - that jostles them into action. Through Arthur and Kel’s own quirky and lovable voices, Heft tells the winning story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. Like Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, Heft is a novel about love and family found in the most unexpected places.
"The first thing you must know about me is that is I am colossally fat. I eat what I want, and furthermore, I eat whenever I want...and I do feel very shy and sort of encassed in something, as if I were a cello, or an expensive gun..." so the character Arthur writes about himself in an unflinching confessional letter to a former love whom he has not seen for decades..when he was merely "plump." The self-described grossly obese Arthur is given a distinguished and compassionate voice by narrator Keith Szarabajka, in a remarkable performance that brings real heart and soul to this wretched lonely human being.
On the opposite end of the physical scale is Kel: tall, blonde, high school heartthrob that leaves his letter jacket on the shoulders of his girlfriend, then drives off in his BFF's BMW. But, Kel crosses the tracks and goes to a run down home, to a mother he disdains for her weaknesses; she is passed out on a sofa wearing a holey T-shirt that reads: It's 5:00 Somewhere! His father walked out when he was 4--he is so sure that his father is the source of his own tall good looks, his extraordinary athleticism, and all that is good in himself; while Mom represents imaginary illnesses, excuses, failures, and all he deems repellent. Also in this wonderful cast is Yolanda, the tiny pregnant Latino cleaning girl, whose sequined-sneakered feet dangle over the sofa when she breaks to watch her favorite soap on TV, and who yells at the honking cars during a huffing Artur's first arduous walk in years, "Hey! I'm pregnant here!"
Heft is a superb character-driven novel that had me in tears more than once. From Arthur's apprehensive yet straighforward introduction, to Kel's self-aware confessions of sorrow and regret, and the streetsmart directness of sassy Yolanda--- Moore has written a bittersweet intersection masterpiece that will etch itself in your heart. With such a significant novel...it is hard to conform to M. Twain's advice: "when you catch an adjective, kill it!" With apologies to Twain...Heft is elegant, beautiful, unforgettable, wise, tender, hopeful, humble, and what it is to be HUMAN; one of my all time top picks. I hope you enjoy this one.
278 of 287 people found this review helpful
This book is perfectly written and masterfully executed audibly. The story is very deep and not a sweet love story or simple tome about family. The readers seem to get it. The professional reviews don't.
This is a book about the impact that fathers, present, unknown and absentee have on their off-spring. The reviewers seemed to have missed this entirely. The book is very profound in its treatment of the subject.
Arthur has a weight and self-esteem problem. Kel suffers from guilt about his mother and confusion about his own identity. Yolonda is bringing a baby into the world without a father. Even the satellite characters have fathers of great importance to the story as Kel reaches to the fathers of his friends for help.
The story is excellent and will hold your interest. The point is important and very profound. The delivery is excellent by both readers. This audio book has it all.
Don't miss this one.
93 of 96 people found this review helpful
I realized nearing the end of this book that I was saying a silent prayer: Please don't end please don't end... I want to follow these people's lives forever. Arthur and Kel's characters were so deftly rendered that there was never a hint of self-pity or melodrama about them. I haven't felt such empathy for fictional characters in a long time. This wonderful book deserves more than five stars.
62 of 64 people found this review helpful
I haven't been so affected by a book in a very long time. I cried when it was over. I chose this book based on a review by a reader I admire; I'm sure glad I did. The narrator who is Arthur's voice did a wonderful, poignant, moving performance. He made Arthur become a real person to me. I can't explain how wonderful this character is on all levels.
There is no sex or violence, but a sweet suspense builds over the unfolding of the story. I wanted to skip ahead to see if I was right about the outcome. I wasn't.
It isn't a perfect book. Yolanda is a bit of a stereotype, yet I looked past it on the strength of Arthur's character. Kel's character is a little heartbreaking as time passes, but hope is always there. The three stories weave together beautifully and Ms. Moore keeps it interesting and believable.
I wish I could meet Arthur. Buy the book so you can fall in love too.
This would be a great book for a high school literature class.
86 of 90 people found this review helpful
\Arthur Opp is a morbidly obese ex-professor who hasn’t left his Brooklyn brownstone for years. Kel Keller is a 17-year-old baseball prodigy whose education at a posh private school is at odds with his poverty-stricken home life. The connection between these two strangers becomes clear during the course of the book,with the narration alternating between Arthur and Kel. (I listened to this on audiobook, and, in a stroke of genius, they had two separate narrators for Arthur and Kel.) The book tiptoes up to the point where our two protagonists are on the cusp of a new relationship and then quietly shuts the door. This is a quiet book about loneliness, taking chances on other people, and moving out of your comfort zone. It is definitely worth checking out.
43 of 45 people found this review helpful
For some reason, this is a difficult review to write partly because I don't want to include spoilers and because it is an unusual book. I finished it very quickly, as I was intrigued by both story lines, and I couldn't wait to see how the main characters' lives intersected. It was in a most unexpected way but it really worked for me. This was not an uplifting, happy read for the most part, but it did offer hope for a better future for both characters. It is a fascinating character study.
Both narrators did an excellent job of bringing their characters to life and both immensely added to the telling of a story that for me is unforgettable.
I highly recommend this book.
69 of 73 people found this review helpful
This is the story of two lonely people. If you have ever felt lonely or isolated, whether due to circumstances or choices, shame or embarrassment, you will connect with these characters. The book isn't only characters, of course; there are several plot twists I didn't see coming. But I was most fascinated with how the characters dealt with each situation.
My only complaint is that it seemed unfinished. I am not someone who needs a storybook ending and everything in its place at the end of a novel but for this one, perhaps because I did connect with the characters so much, I felt bereft at the end. I hope Liz Moore will tell more of their stories so this sometimes-lonely reader can meet up again with her literary counterparts.
38 of 40 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to Heft the most enjoyable?
The multi-cast narration was spectacular, bringing the complex characters to life in all their flawed glory.
Who was your favorite character and why?
I was immediately drawn to Arthur Opp. He's loveable in his tragic loneliness and I found myself rooting for him to open up and celebrating his tiny steps forward.
Have you listened to any of Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I've listened to Kirby Heyborne in 'Gone Girl', and his performance in Heft was equally gripping. This was my first listen from Keith Szarabajka and he's now on my radar.
17 of 18 people found this review helpful
Although this is essentially a character-driven novel about relationship and family, you won't find either the conventionally attractive characters, or those that are attractively unattractive, advantaged in the usual ways, that populate many books of the "dysfunctional family" genre. Although that same genre is successful and certainly insightful when crafted by masters like Jodi Picoult, Sue Miller, and Elizabeth Berg, "Heft" approaches the nuances of interpersonal connections through the back door, side doors, any entrance except the front. The irony about ingress via "entrance" is coincidental; a centerpiece of the story is a completely housebound academic, who, over the course of the novel, gradually dissolves his own barriers and allows people (including the reader) access to his life.
It's about flawed characters, flawed in dramatic ways; a person managing his intellectual life but unable to get the exponentially damaging aspects of personal life under control. A youth possessed of proven athletic prowess yet held back emotionally and financially by an addicted mom. The unlikely pairing of a working class house cleaner from an immigrant family with an upper class high-brow intellectual whose professional life has been on balance successful but whose personal life is drastically in need of an upgrade.
This story is beautifully written, and its slow and gradual progress - fans of high drama and fast action might not love this - demonstrates the coming together of characters from seemingly terminal isolation into a connected whole. The title "Heft" refers literally to the heavy personal ballast of extreme physical avoirdupois, but also metaphorically to the weight of relationships and connections forged from happenstance into a logical whole that has strength and, truly, heft.
The book's jacket cover is appropriate, composed of interlocking printer's alphabet blocks, all of different font and character, built into a "hefty" balance.
The narration could not be better.
72 of 80 people found this review helpful
Arthur Opp says "the pleasure of finally making a clean break into misery after always dangling above it's canyon...." sums up the depth of this character's journey in life, and for me the depth of this story too.
I was hooked, I wanted to get back to the book each time I set it down. I loved the way the author entwined the characters, it all worked so well.
I cannot begin to sing enough praise for these amazing narrators who made the characters, each one, truly alive. This is the best narration I've ever heard in a book, I think.
I can only say I couldn't give the story 5 stars because of the abrupt ending, I didn't quite get that, a bit of a disappointment. But overall such a winner.
55 of 62 people found this review helpful
This book was made especially good by the narrators. A real gem of a story, poignant, thoughtful and touching.
Would you consider the audio edition of Heft to be better than the print version?
The narrator of Arthur Opp is especially excellent.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Heft?
When Arthur goes for a walk for the first time. Never has a journey to the park being such an adventure.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Many.... This is a sentimental journey.
Any additional comments?
I have 99 audiobooks in my library. This is one of the best.
What made the experience of listening to Heft the most enjoyable?
I found the narration perfect for the subject matter, and loved both characters. The slow, contemplative style was relaxing and easy to lose oneself in.I was left feeling emotionally drained when I'd finished it, and not ready to jump into my next book. It's a story that gives one a lot to think about, both whilst reading and long afterwards.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Heft?
This isn't a novel filled with moments of great action, adventure or suspense. It's a story of inner thoughts and regrets, but it's also certainly not without hope and optimism. The most memorable parts of the novel for me are the most emotional, and there are plenty of those. Both Arthur and Kel meeting their fathers. Yolanda's life mirroring that of Charlene, the pregnant, college dropout. Kel's placing of the obituary which Arthur will most assuredly read. This scene wasn't overly long or descriptive, but still leaves a sense of loss and sadness, that lingers.
Which character – as performed by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka – was your favourite?
All characters were very well voiced but I prefered Arthur Opp/Yolanda, not because the narration was any better, but as I felt a greater compassion and connection to them.
Any additional comments?
I was sorry when the book finished, as the end of the novel was just the beginning of the story, I could have spent many more hours enjoying the company of Arthur, Yolanda and Kel. I will definitely listen to this again in the near future.