Get ready for a ride. Zoe Heller's eagerly awaited third novel, The Believers, delivers as a follow-up to the celebrated What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal, which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film. Though this one's about family, there are still plenty of scandals to go around. The New York Litvinoff clan is not, by any means, a very likable bunch, nor do they live the ideals they espouse. The liberal, self-professed open-minded parents can defend and sympathize with alleged 9/11 terrorists both in court and in theory, but not with their own adult daughters for much lesser offenses (Rosa for turning to religion, and Karla for turning fat). Their adopted son Lenny, though an addict and a liar, gets off easier. When patriarch Joel suffers a stroke in court and sinks into a coma, an event that would pull most families together, the Litvinoffs remain viciously, comically at each other's throats -- especially spitfire mother Audrey, a British transplant to New York who always has the last word.
And giving that word extra oomph is narrator Andrea Martin. A Broadway-trained actress, Martin turns the tale into a performance. She takes command in the prologue, set in 1962 London, with impeccable accents (there are many throughout the book) and tones, equally adept at voicing the men and the women, and never looks back. Her Audrey, already a force to be reckoned with, gains momentum. Whereas others may have made the matriarch seem perpetually angry -- especially when proof of Joel's philandering comes to light -- Martin is able to hit both the sadness and comicality in her quips. In fact, Martin makes the wide cast of characters more relatable and individual on the airwaves than they may at first seem on the page. Her timing, cadence, and staccato rants are spot on, bringing out the humor in the book that may have been lost to a lesser narrator. When you reach the end, you'll want an encore, even if it is just more privileged people behaving badly. Kelly Marages
Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary, has found herself drawn into the world of Orthodox Judaism and is now being pressed to make a commitment to that religion. Karla, a devoted social worker hoping to adopt a child with her husband, is falling in love with the owner of a newspaper stand outside her office. Ne'er-do-well Lenny is living at home, approaching another relapse into heroin addiction.
In the course of battling their own demons - and one another - the Litvinoff clan is called upon to examine long-held articles of faith that have formed the basis of their lives together and their identities as individuals. In the end, all the family members will have to answer their own questions and decide what - if anything - they still believe in. The Believers explores big ideas with a light touch, delivering a tragic, comic family story as unsparing as it is filled with compassion.
I have two complaints abut this book: it was too short. And I'm not wild about the narrator.
Zoe Heller brings us a family in which each character is so distinct and so clearly crafted, you truly feel you get inside each of them.
The narrator is the main drawback: take, for example, the matriarch of the family, around whom everyone else cautiously orbit. She is originally form the UK. Yet reader Andrea Martin has given her sort of Jewish Brooklyn sound. Martin gives clear voice to the daughters and to slacker Lenny, but the rest of the characters seem to have the same loud, overbearing voices. It did not make sense to me, for instance, that one character hails from Fort Worth, and is highly educated, but speaks in obnoxious Brooklynese that belies her background.
Having said that, this is a compelling story with great characters, all of whom must reckon with painful familial truths, including infidelity, drug abuse, and plain, old fashioned emotional cruelty. These characters grow, learn, change in very honest, real ways.
All in all, if you like good, well-written contemporary literature, get this book!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
the characters in this book are exTREMEly flawed. they are by turns bitchy, self-righteous, jealous, gluttenous, proud, and worse...the living embodiments of the seven deadly sins and a whole host of venial ones. but the writing is so gorgeous and the scenes are so finely drawn that even those awful, awful people became a pleasure to read about. i came to respect and even admire audrey, the family matriarch, despite her cruel tounge. she's screwed up her children so royally that they're barely-functioning adults, and yet i found myself rooting for her time and again. if you can appreciate the ones you love despite their monumental flaws, then this book is definately worth your time.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I haven't yet finished the book because the reader is nearly unbearable. Every character sounds stereotypically Jewish. She can't do a British accent to save her life.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I was excited about this book because I truly enjoyed Zoe Heller's last book. However, the characters in this family are so nasty and dysfunctional, so completely unlikeable, that I couldn't bear to spend any more time in their wretched company. Their ugly family exchanges could not hold my interest and I had to put the book down.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up The Believers in three words, what would they be?
Leftist Sixties Kunstler
What did you like best about this story?
The characters. Also I have an interest in politics and Judaism in the 1960s.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Andrea Martin?
I love Andrea Martin as a performer, but she had an unsteady command of various accents (British, Brooklyn, Jewish, Manhattan). The family's voices were heavily Jewish and Upper West Side, but the family lived downtown. The voices were inconsistent.
If you could take any character from The Believers out to dinner, who would it be and why?
The older sister seems like a nice person who has lived with many impossible people.
Any additional comments?
I tried to imagine the words on the page behind the voice.