Some of my favourite bloggers have reviewed this recently and it sounded right up my street - what can I say, I'm a sucker for a good cover. So understandably I was delighted when the lovely Mrs Mac offered to send me a copy, and it was pushed right to the top of my TBR pile!
Charlene Keller is a single mother living with her 18-year-old son Kel in a downtrodden corner of New York State, struggling to get by in more ways than one. All she wants is for her boy to get into college and make a good life for himself, but Kel has other ideas. In desperation Charlene turns to her former mentor and friend, college professor Arthur Opp, for help. Little does she know that Arthur himself has struggled since they last met, growing morbidly obese and confining himself to the walls of his Brooklyn home. In Heft we learn how the two men deal with the trials that life throws at them through chapters that alternate between Arthur's and Kel's points of view.
The overwhelming impression that I have been left with after reading Heft is that it is a deeply sad novel. I'm not generally one for getting weepy over books but have to confess that even the first few pages of Arthur's story left a lump in my throat, and the tone doesn't really lighten up until the very end. Arthur's intense loneliness is expressed so vividly that you cannot help but empathise with him, and for poor Kel it is really just one disaster after another - just when you think things can't get any worse for him they do.
Even though I was tempted to give up at times and the doom and gloom all felt a bit much, the wonderful characters kept me reading. Both Arthur and Kel are really lovable despite all their flaws and insecurities. I was especially surprised to find myself relating to Kel as sports-mad teenage boys are usually the last characters I take to, but it is testament to Moore's great writing that I was willing him to succeed on every page. Charlene was maybe a little less strong of a character. Try as I might I couldn't reconcile the young Charlene of Arthur's memories with the down-at-heel present-day Charlene. I also found it a little odd that there are frequent references to the fact that she suffers from lupus, without any explanation of what that means or how it affects her daily life. When she has so much else going on in her life, it felt a bit unnecessary and maybe confusing for readers who are unfamiliar with the disease. Although I suppose it did briefly reinforce my appreciation for the NHS (not that I really needed it), as I find it unthinkable that someone with a chronic debilitating condition such as lupus would have to forgo treatment simply due to lack of personal funds.
I am undecided as to my overall impression of this book. I think it was really well written and the main characters are impeccably drawn. But I can't say I truly 'enjoyed' it as for a large part of the book I had a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and an imaginary grey cloud hovering over my head. This had mostly resolved by the final page but there is still some ambiguity about the ending and some plot strands that are not neatly tied up and resolved. I am by no means a lover of fluffy happy chick-lit but did occasionally find Heft to be hard work. So I suppose I would recommend it but with a caution that it makes for bleak reading at times and is maybe one that you have to be in the right mood for.