Read The Believers by Zoë Heller Online

the-believers

Zoë Heller, author of Notes on a Scandal and Everything You Know has written a comic, tragic tale about one family’s struggles with the consolations of faith and the trials of doubt. When Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke, his wife, Audrey, uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine her ideas about their forty-year marriage. Joel’s children will soon have to come tZoë Heller, author of Notes on a Scandal and Everything You Know has written a comic, tragic tale about one family’s struggles with the consolations of faith and the trials of doubt. When Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke, his wife, Audrey, uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine her ideas about their forty-year marriage. Joel’s children will soon have to come to terms with this unsettling discovery themselves, but for the time being, they are grappling with their own dilemmas. Rosa is being pressed to make a commitment to religion. Karla is falling in love with the owner of a newspaper concession and Lenny is back on drugs. In the course of battling their own demons and each other, every member of the family is called upon to re-examine long-held articles of faith and to decide what – if anything – they still believe in....

Title : The Believers
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780670916122
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 307 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Believers Reviews

  • Srividya
    2019-03-03 03:01

    “Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein.None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective AffinitiesHaving been a reader since I guess forever, books for me fall into two categories; one that blow me away and one that don’t; books that are perfect in every sense and those that aren’t; books that have strong stories that move me and those that don’t; simply – books that I love and those that I don’t. However, very rarely, I do stumble upon a few that leave me mystified as they don’t fit any of these categories. They are those square pegs of life that I desperately want to fit into round holes and alas they don’t, they won’t, they can’t. However, while the fit of these square pegs might be difficult, they aren’t all that impossible to like or feel overwhelmed by. Zoe Heller’s The Believers is one such square peg, which try as I might, I can’t fit and yet it seems a perfect fit, a dichotomy if ever there was one.Recommended by a good friend Vimal and then endorsed by my own little group here, this book had all the makings of a great read, one that I couldn’t ignore or resist. Being quite the flighty reader, it honestly didn’t take much pursuing or convincing on their part to start this book. However, it did take a little bit of convincing on my part to continue it and finish it. The story, as the blurb goes, is that of a dysfunctional Jewish family, which is trying to find its balance after its patriarch suffers from a stroke and is in a coma. I had too many problems with that in the beginning and trust me being dysfunctional was just the first of those problems. Reading the blurb, despite many friends endorsing it as a nice book, I felt that I was in for a ubiquitous tale peppered with a lot of clichés and some digs at life in general, mouthed by some characters that honestly didn’t care much about anyone other than themselves. The honest truth is that I got all that, hence the need for convincing myself to finish it. However, the other truth also is that there is much more than just that, which is why I guess I am still at that crossroad in my life – do I like it or don’t I?Joel Litvinoff and his wife Audrey are the crassest, most abrasive, most opinionated, and the most ill equipped set of parents that I have ever read about in a book; and let me tell you I have read some really bad ones there. I didn’t get their attraction towards each other or even the reason why they got married in the first place and then went on to amplify that mistake by having kids and worse adopting another. However, on the other hand, they are the most fascinating characters in this book, especially Audrey. Her inflammatory words, her derisive nature, her flamboyance, her arrogance, her lack of maternal love, her disdain for her family, especially her two daughters – oh the list goes on and on and yet she is delightful because of all that. Coming to the other characters, the two daughters Rosa and Karla and the son Lenny as well as the most irritating Mike, who happens to be Karla’s husband; they are all superbly irritating and wondrously horrible and what’s more is that they believe that they are truly free, when, in reality, they aren’t. And yet, despite creating some of the most awful characters, Ms. Heller has managed to create a book that is not only profound but absolutely spellbinding, a true page turner if there ever was one. My first experience of Ms. Heller was with her book, Notes on a Scandal, and despite loving the premise of the book, I just couldn’t appreciate it for its lack of depth. However, for me, Ms. Heller has truly exonerated herself in this book with her vivid and detailed insight into marriage, family, religion and politics and their influence on an individual. Using a motley crew of some of the most irritating characters, she manages to deal with issues like identity, faith, belief, trust, humanity and most importantly love for oneself. Through this dysfunctionality, she shows us that human beings are not independent and individual islands, even if they believe that they are. She makes us question the very basis of who we are and where we come from to make us find an answer to where we are going. Whether it is Rosa turning to religion or Karla finding solace with another, she shows that even the most independent aren’t free from the need to belong, the need to seek and get respect from another, the desire to be self confident and to prove to themselves that they can – can do and achieve what they want, despite all obstacles or maybe because of them. The derogatory, often vile and most insulting conversations that take place between the members of this family shed light on various truths of life that one usually brushes under the carpet. Whether it is dealing with extra marital affairs, drug addiction, religious dogmas, socialistic viewpoints, societal faux pas; the dialogue is acerbic and yet stunningly beautiful. The author with her direct tone manages to grab you by the collar and make you look up and listen well, which I feel is the most wonderful aspect of this book. The pain that resonates through the medium of these words is raw and totally unbridled, often lending a certain poignancy to the story, even if you don’t really feel that for the character. Religion, especially Judaism, and its orthodoxy and dogmas play a pivotal role in this book. Faith and belief are seen from the eyes of the theist and the atheist, which surprisingly is similar in their tone, if not content. Torn between the intellectual and the spiritual, Rosa finds her way to peaceful living. While this may, by itself, be an arduous road for her, it is made more so by her atheist family. The constant internal struggle that an individual goes through to find solace in a superior power whilst not really wanting to subjugate or surrender fully is beautifully depicted by Ms. Heller in this book. However, it isn’t just faith in god or religion that she talks about but also faith in love and self respect. As someone who isn’t overly religious, it is easy for me to find the fact that an atheist converts into a believer, a cliché; but Ms. Heller does such a fine job of showcasing that change that it made the book more of a spiritual experience than a religious one. Even when I was questioning Rosa’s sanity, I couldn’t fault her reasoning and neither could I find fault in the spirituality behind it.Despite having a motley of horrible characters and a plot that is soap opera worthy, Ms. Heller nevertheless, manages to sustain your attention and active participation in this book, which to me is a mark of great writing and a good book. It is something worth experiencing even when it is tedious; and a lesson worth learning, even when it is hidden within acerbic wit. I won’t call it pleasure reading for it isn’t but then it gives you a pleasure of its own. Worth every minute spent on it.

  • M
    2019-03-07 02:35

    I did not get this book AT ALL. Having read and enjoyed Notes on a Scandal (and if you can get past THAT premise you're good to go for just about anything) I was sure I would like her new one.Well. For one thing, while she is an eloquent writer with a nice vocabulary, she seems to have fallen into this new wave writing style of 'how many details can I toss in to seem perceptive?' Yes theoretically I could write aobut my daily commute in my novel and tell you about how my metro card didn't go through the first time, much to the dismay of the people behind me, and how the steps were filthy and Ir an down only to just miss my train and how frustrating that is, but, um, do we care? I think that reality TV has had a strong impact on what we think we need to express in the written word.The second issue I take with this work is its characters - none of them are likeable. The mom, Audrey, is disgusting. She has only the nastiest things to say, ostensibly unprovoked, to her best friend, husband, and kids. There is nothing charming about her harshness, it is only shocking and out of place. Her kids range from the same endearing personality to completely vapid and passive. One character to the next oozed dysfunction and edge with no redeeming feature. In addition, after you are so weirded out by the extent of Audrey's obnoxiousness (like when she yells at her husband's mistress 'you whore' and her daughter just assumes she's the one being addressed, because, you know, that's normal for them) which seems to have no explanation, Heller GIVES you an explanation. two thirds through and Heller's narrative which is all aobut tell and not show interrupts to say, sotto voce, this plucky woman uses obnoxiousness as a defense mechanism, perhaps now it has gone too far. Well that nice little decoy didn't endear me much either.The overall premise is that Audrey who, when you first meet her, seems incredibly boring, seems to fall rather quickly and inexplicably for loud mouthed slick lawyer (a Jew, go figure - thanks Zoe) and they decide to marry after one night together, and go save the world. You then meet their kids forty years later who are either addicted to heroine, sadly overweight and unhapily married, or snippy and annoying. The dad has a stroke and now a big secret (sadly predictable) is unfolded - weirdly enough, this is supposed to be a huge catalyst and yet no one in the book seems to actually care or respond to it in any effective way.Rosa, the oldest, finds Judaism much to her mother's rather opbvious disgust, and goes to Monsey for Shabbos to experience a weekend that I was appalled by. She is bossed around by some little snot who waits outside the bathroom door to make sure she doesn't turn off the light then has a freak out when Rosa forgets and turns it off, then makes sure to tell everyone about it, and then she gets reprimanded for it (after already being reprimanded for getting lost and missing candle lighting - yup that's exactly how we treat someone we are introducing to the faith). She is chastised for carrying a toothbrush to the bathroom (we don't do that on Shabbos - it counts as work!) and she is called a goy by one of the younger girls. She is told rather plainly that she is a man hating woman's libber by asking one of the girls if she will be having a bat mitzvah since 'the orthodox don't do that, only the watered down, we feel left out reform.' The family seems to care more about the carpet and the matching curtains than their guest. Having spent countless Shabboses (some in Monsey) with people who are new or flirting with the faith, I don't know where she got this from but it was so completely unrealistic and overblown - generally if you are that hellish you do not look to bring people into your home like this, and the guest doesn;t generally want to return. Somehow she manages to come back for Rosh Hashana though Gd only knows why (Heller certianly doesn't explain) and we are treated to interesting yet wholly unrealistic dialogue between Rosa and the rabbi about Judaism - so I guess this is where the belief stuff comes in, but that was it - there was nothing else, just BD Dayehu style of dailogue (cue diatribe here for several paragraphs that no human would actually speak) that somehow does it for Rosa such that she is wearing a 'fetchingly biblical' headscarf at the end of the novel (without actually having gotten married - glad you know about the tooth brushing, Zoe, maybe get your facts checked about hair covering). The book doesn't appear to be about anything - there are a lot of red herrings and a lot of unrealistic character shifts which I guess are meant to depict growth yet it doesn't appear that anyone changes for the better or that the changes can be attributed to anything, or, for the life of me, how this is about believers?? It seems to be about misdirected and mistaken people fumbling through life.

  • Syl
    2019-02-17 02:04

    This is the type of book I love to read. Would never have read it if Vimal hadn't made me aware of its existence and its vow value. I was hooked at chapter 1 and till I finished it never looked at any other book. The dark, pithy story of an American Jewish family, who are non believers and whose sole purpose of existence is socialism and humanitarian rights. Joel Litvinoff, the 71 year old lawyer suddenly succumbs to a thromboembolism and is comatose. His scathingly witty and vitriolic wife Audrey, 2 natural children, Rosa and Karola, and adopted son Lenny, deal with the crisis in their own ways.None of them are 'normal'- each saddled with their own particular brand of problems and convictions. This beautifully crafted, citrine tale exposes us to the world of Judaism, socialism, American beliefs and many other burning issues of the day in a bittersweet manner.I learnt a lot about orthodox Judaism and was appalled at the strict laws, almost difficult.to follow. Also learnt a bit more about American and world politics of the day.Zoe Heller will soon become one of my favorite authors.Found this book a notch better than Notes on a Scandal.

  • Sanchia
    2019-03-16 06:46

    Set in Heller’s adoptive US The Believers is a funny, highly original and adroit satire of New York’s liberal elite. The title, a wicked irony in itself, belies the books central characters, the Litvinoff tribe - a family of hard line antitheists who have rejected their Jewish heritage and proudly live by socialist values. The father Joel is a charismatic civil rights lawyer, his wife Audrey a raging pot smoking ultra-leftist. Their façade is shattered when Joel suffers a massive stroke and suddenly the family is forced to confront the reality behind their rhetoric. Karla, the eldest daughter, is an unhappily married union activist falling for a politically naive shop keeper. The middle daughter Rosa, a disillusioned Marxist, is exploring Orthodox Judaism and the Litvinoff’s adopted son Lenny mocks his family’s altruistic veneer with his lazy, self centered attitude. Heller’s blazing satire is reminisce of Franzen’s The Corrections, but with the volume turned up loud.

  • B the BookAddict
    2019-03-19 04:04

    GR suggests that Zoe Heller is a similar author to Lionel Shriver but I beg to differ. Having said that, The Believers is very much a readable novel in it's own right.I have not written my own review because really, the best review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...A 4 ★ for this novel. I am disappointed Heller has written only one other book. Hope she gets another one to her publisher soon; she is a talented writer.

  • Vimal Thiagarajan
    2019-03-14 04:04

    I picked this one up on the weight of Notes on a scandal, another book by Zoe Heller which had landed me into her not-exactly-thronging fan club, and right from page 1 I just couldn't have enough of it. The plot isn't something out of the box- A radical New York lawyer, Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke and his wife Audrey Litvinoff and their 3 children have to find ways to cope with the tragedy- but through a combination of piercing insight, disarming and unmitigated honesty and blazing satire, Zoe Heller transforms it into a chanceless entertainer and an enduring piece of art. Ms Heller's prose is so damn biting and punchy - it just keeps viciously clawing at you with unrelenting intensity, page after page, paragraph after caustic paragraph. Audrey Litvinoff is one of the most unconventional and foul-mouthed characters that I've ever read about or met in real life or in a nightmare. For the most part, I was either achingly wincing anticipating one of her big booming vitriolic outbursts or gasping at the rasping impact of her filthy verbal barrage. If Audrey stuns you with her acerbic temperament and brutal sarcasm, the other characters stun you with their inexplicable, comic and contradictory decisions and actions.Depth of characters aside, Zoe Heller explores a whole host of themes with piercing insight and satirical charm- the nature of belief-religious or existential and the pain involved in its constant re-examination, the hypocrisy that it engenders even in the most scrupulous of practitioners, the relevance and need for its observances, gaping holes and festering fallacies that are thrown open in ideologies once the sweeping charisma that had fostered them is removed, perfect ideas and imperfect people, ladders and arduous climbing and wrong walls, obesity, addiction,empathy, disillusionment and what not. You could just take anything out of the Believers, based on what you believe or want to believe.It's immensely liberating as a reader to read fiction of the kind where the author doesn't write to please. Of the kind where no attempt whatsoever is made to make the characters likeable or relatable or worthy of much sympathy-at least the conventional form of it. The Believers is one such top quality fiction-the kind that bypasses emotions and engages directly with the thinking part of the brain. Glad to have read this, and Super- glad to see some intense raving and energetic debates among my friends who read it :)

  • Girish
    2019-03-02 07:43

    Every once in a while you pick up a book with little hype and you get blown away. Believers was that book for me - a soap opera worthy storyline that comes as close to an entertaining piece of art - thanks to uninhibited writing! The title 'Believers' I imagined a subtle play on different type of beliefs - be it marital, faith, trust, confidence! (A fan sees things that even the author didn't maybe.. excuse)The Litvinoffs family hits a fork in the road when the popular socialist humanitarian Joel Litvinoff has a stroke and becomes comatose. Audrey the vitriolic matriarch, my favourite character, does not hold back a punch and cares little for being polite. So she bullies the doctors, rips down her husband's junior and even resorts to a showdown with a woman who has an affair with her husband. She is tough on her kids and friends and resorts to sarcasm that has you in splits and your heart goes out to her. The three kids are dealing with their own problems. Rosa the eldest daughter of the antitheist family is exploring religion and going through the cycle of ridiculing, experimenting and choice before faith. Karla the overweight daughter with low self confidence, conforming to her parental decree, struggles to break her invisible shackles. Lenny, the 35 year old adopted baby-son, with an addiction problem spoilt by motherly love. I read most exchanges with a grin on my face and highlighted quotes for the brilliance after long!Sample this "The moment you wanted anything too fervently, the moment you yearned, the universe gazed with disgust upon your mewling and withheld"Or this: "It was as if suffering had become so integral to her identity that the prospect of any real, material improvement in her life would pose a threat to her deepest sense of self"Zoe Heller - Fan club coming soon! :)

  • switterbug (Betsey)
    2019-03-17 04:41

    Zoe Heller is sui generis, a gutsy, peerless writer with master control of her narrative. This is a family saga that takes no prisoners. Her sardonic style is crisp, erudite. Her characters are not caricatures--as outrageous as they are, they feel true.Audrey Litvinoff, the matriarch, is a flinty, pained woman with a major character disorder. While her husband lies in a coma, she is told some uncomfortable news about his dirty little secrets. With a kind of acerbic, acid aplomb, she spins into a denial that threatens to unravel her. As it is, she is wound so tight that I felt my own circulation threatening to block off. But she is so exuberant that I was often reeling in her energy. She is staggered by her own wretchedness and projects it onto those around her. She is especially harsh to her own daughters, but overprotects and enables her drug-addicted son.Her daughters, Karla and Rosa, are choked by their mother's dominance and have no sense of their own identity. Karla lives in her husband's shadow and Rosa seeks a self through Orthodox Judaism. Audrey's son, Lenny, could be reductively defined as a spoiled, angry brat. He is certainly a lost soul--a weak, spineless, selfish son of his mother (although he was adopted).Heller's prose is so muscular it punctures the air, it leaves streaks of blood on your fingers as you turn the pages. I had an out and out blast reading this novel. It is lofty, but wet and juicy and wholly entertaining. The pages flowed with as much alacrity as her narrative. It nearly singed my fingers.This is my first Heller novel. Some reviewers complain that her characters are not likable. Well, paradoxically, I don't necessarily like a character that is likable. I like them vivid and buzzing and original. Audrey leaps out of the novel and claws your face--and I still had empathy for her. I was moved by her and the events of this story. This is one author that has made a believer out of me.

  • Veronica
    2019-02-17 00:03

    Zoe Heller excels at misanthropy. It can be funny (Everything You Know) or cringe-making (Notes on a Scandal) but here it just seemed to go a little too far. I felt like shaking Heller and saying, "You know, there are some people in the world who are kind and generous!". Not in Heller's world there aren't. Notes on a Scandal created a wonderful uneasiness, because I had a sneaking sympathy with Barbara while still being creeped-out by her behaviour. Here, Audrey is so horrible that you cannot imagine why her perfectly pleasant friend Jean would put up with her for so long -- or indeed why the members of her abused, dysfunctional family have not fled long ago. Even Audrey's apparently maganimous gesture at the end of the book seemed to me to be more manipulation, aimed at neatly pulling the rug out from under her enemy's feet and setting herself up (quite unjustifiably) as a saint.I got fed up with the book after about 200 pages, but it did redeem itself later, and I'm glad I finished it. Zoe Heller writes well, is keen-eyed and waspish in her misanthropy, and she addresses some interesting issues. Most notable for me was the way that families (and particularly Audrey in this case) define their members' characteristics in infancy and are blind to any changes that happen later. So Karla is forever type-cast as a dim, pliable victim. Adopted drug-addict son Lenny is referred to by Audrey as her "baby" when he is 34, and Audrey is clearly uncomfortable with the idea that he might actually shake off his addiction and cease to be dependent on her. Heller also cleverly explores what the characters believe in and how it shapes their lives (mostly in nasty ways!).

  • eb
    2019-03-06 08:03

    Brilliant, mean, funny--but will I sound prissy if I complain that each and every American character speaks like a Brit? I don't get it. Where's the editor? Where's the kindly American friend who'll read a draft and say, "Zoe, I love this book, but Yanks don't say 'That's not been my impression,' we say, 'That wasn't my impression,' and we don't say 'Don't let's declare it a failure,' we say 'Let's not declare it a failure.'" It made me sad that this novel, which I loved so much, distracted me on every page with the equivalent of a neon sign blinking I WAS WRITTEN BY A BRITISH WOMAN WHO HASN'T FULLY MASTERED AMERICAN LOCUTIONS.

  • Beverly
    2019-02-23 23:44

    Not as good as Notes on a Scandal. This is a readable story of a politically progressive New York Jewish family whose celebrity lawyer father suffers a stroke. As he lays in a coma, his family scurries around trying to come to terms with their own lives. Sloppily written (edited?). Heller thinks that Americans say things like "I dare say", "have it", and "try it on". One of the daughters moves into Orthodox Judaism; Heller also doesn't know that unmarried Orthodox women do not cover their heads. These lapses truly disfigure the work. This book is also notable for positing one of the meanest, nastiest middle-aged Jewish women imaginable as the family's mother. Unconvincing, misanthropic, weakly plotted.

  • Indrani Sen
    2019-02-23 08:02

    A very engaging read about a very real, very dysfunctional family. The characters are really well portrayed.

  • Amy
    2019-02-19 07:36

    So, you bring this book on vacation. Your traveling companions notice you’re spending most every spare minute with it and ask what it’s about. “Oh, a family of radicals living in New York. The father’s a famous lawyer and the mother’s British. The kids are rebelling—one is converting to Orthodox Judaism and another’s a drug addict and the third is trying to adopt a kid.” You’re met with a puzzled look and no requests to borrow the book. It’s hard to explain why this is a great read if you only talk about The Believers’ plot. Perhaps it would be better to talk about Audrey, the mother of the family who swears like a sailor, brought her now-husband to meet her parents the day after she met him, and who loves her adopted son more than her biological daughters. Or Karla, who has an eating disorder, a boring husband, and a new friendship with the older Middle Eastern shop owner at the hospital where she works. In any case, the pleasure of this book is not what happens, but in being along for the ride.

  • Akanksha Chattopadhyay
    2019-02-17 00:51

    A tv worthy story where the focal characters happen to be "left-liberals".

  • Kru
    2019-03-13 04:59

    This is one of those books that make me wonder why restrict ratings to just 5 stars. The discussions on spirituality, religion, orthodoxy, above all Audrey and the reviews from friends was what prompted me to take up this book immediately. I was very much awed by Zoe Heller’s creepy and cold narration in her What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandaland wanted to take up this book later, so that expectations don’t go awry. Ideals are peaceful, history is violent. Every belief system is built on the fundamental principle of being purposeful and instrumental in bringing peace to the world, but when believers blindly go by their belief system and are too rigid with a very myopic view that theirs is the only truth, ignoring the practical inconveniences caused to other people, and failing to correct their shortcomings, their actions lead to violence.This book is basically an evaluation of the rigidity in the beliefs of the Litvinoff family. Joel believes in socialism, Audrey believes in Joel, Karla believes her parents’ ideas about her life and career are her limits, Rosa believes accepting orthodoxy and going back to her religion is her salvation, Lenny believes running away from family might be helpful. If only they listened to other's viewpoint with an open mind, things could have turned up differently. But the stark irony is while they don't want to slacken their belief and hold on to it tightly when dealing with others, they don't mind compromising their ideals when it comes to their own selfish, personal gratifications. Heller brings out this hypocrisy, intricately crafted with myriad emotions with a true to life characterization, against a backdrop of Socialism and Judaism, in her own dark, witty narration spiced with sarcastic and acidulous tones.

  • Roxanne
    2019-03-01 03:37

    I originally said this book was "neat and tidy," and that the narrator was "peevish." That was my terse review; now I get wordy.These characters are so thin that prosciutto is jealous. The wife/mother is a turbo-charged bitch and that doesn't change. Doesn't progress, doesn't soften, doesn't develop. We get a paragraph where she ponders what made her so shallow and pinched, and she concludes it was something she started when she was 18 and didn't bother stopping. Viola. Character introspection. In the end she does something uncharacteristically nice, which is apparently what we get in the way of resolution.One daughter is a prudish, feminist atheist who finds the concept of God makes no sense to her, so she converts to orthodox Judaism. Resolution. The other is fat and unhappy in her marriage to an ass, so she meets a man who thinks she's beautiful and runs away with him. Resolution. The son is a junkie loser, who cleans up and then relapses, but what can we expect from losers? Shrug! Ultimately, we just don't care what happens to any of them. We give them 335 pages to become interesting or to puff up like Jiffy Pop into 3D characters, but they fail us and slip through the cracks into some paper-thin purgatory where uninteresting writing goes to mildew.I first gave it two stars, figuring if I had finished it it must at least be "okay." I'm changing that to one star, and giving myself one star for wasting my time.

  • Corny
    2019-02-23 04:41

    Zoe Heller weaves a wonderful tale of a dysfunctional family which loses its glue when its patriarch is felled by a stroke in the first chapter. The characters are believable and, for the most part, not very admirable. They struggle against each other, their surroundings, and finally against their dark sides. Audrey, the bereaved wife, with the mouth from Hell is counterintuitively a sympathetic character. Karla battles a weight problem, and Lenny a drug addiction while Rosa contemplates returning to Judaism, her family's heretofore unpracticed faith. We gradually see the layers peeled from the comatose Joel, a seemingly saintly protector of the rights of the downtrodden, now revealed as someone "human"Although, Heller sometimes reaches too far for clever analogy, her insightful probing of the intricacies of family relationships makes for riveting reading. Some of it is laugh out loud funny, some sad and some repellent but no matter what it is, the reader is carried along on a flood of apt words and phrases. I recommend it highly.

  • Bonnie Brody
    2019-02-27 02:45

    Zoe Heller can write. She is a master of acerbic wit, denigration, parody. sarcasm, and layered complexity. She writes with a sensibility that I can only compare to varying musical keys. Her story vacillates from the minor keys to the major, from melodic to dissonant, sometimes in the same paragraph.This novel is about the Litvinoff family. There is Audrey, the mother and matriarch. She has an attitude like spoiled meat. She "was always congratulating herself on her audacious honesty, her willingness to express what everyone else was thinking. But no one...actually shared Audrey's ugly view of the world. It was not the truth of her observations that made people laugh, but their unfairness, their surreal cruelty" (p.53). No one is spared from her cruelty except her husband and her son, Lenny. Audrey wonders how she has become a harridan. "Once upon a time, her brash manner had been a mere posture - - a convenient and amusing way for an insecure teenage bride, newly arrived in America, to disguise her crippling shyness." (p189) "But somewhere along the way, when she hadn't been paying attention, her temper had ceased to be a beguiling party act that could be switched on an off at will. It had begun to express authentic resentments: boredom with motherhood, fury at her husband's philandering, despair at the pettiness of her domestic fate". (p. 189) "Her anger had become part of her. It was a knotted thicket in her gut, too dense to be cut down and too deeply entrenched in the loamy soil of her disappointments to be uprooted". (p. 190) Audrey's public persona is that she is the power behind the throne, Joel's muse. At heart, however, she knows she is not that. Had she not married Joel, she would have been relegated to a clerical job in England and probably never have left the provincial town where she was raised.Joel has been a star in the ideological socialist battle, a protester at heart. He is an attorney who has championed the underdog whether guilty or innocent. He does this until the day he has a stroke while in the midst of a trial for an alleged Al Quaida sympathizer.Rosa had been her father's star child, the one who appeared to take the family's ideological messages most to heart. She had lived in Cuba for four years, marched while a student at Bard college and wanted her father's approval. Lately, however, she has been toying with the idea of orthodox Judaism much to her parents' chagrin. Now, her Rabbi has asked her to make a commitment to Judaism.Karla is a passive and quiet social worker, locked into a stale marriage to a union organizer who doesn't appreciate her. While growing up she was the lost child, the one who desperately sought, but rarely received attention. She is self-denigrating and worries constantly about her weight and her body image. Audrey doesn't help things by telling Karla how fat she is. Now Karla is finding herself falling in love with the owner of a newspaper kiosk near her work site and she is torn about what to do. Her husband wants to adopt a child and this is not something Karla is interested in doing.Lenny is the adopted child. He is a n'eer do well with a history of drug addiction and several stints in rehab. He is Audrey's favorite, the one who she loves the most. She is enmeshed with him and is a great enabler, not helping him with his attempts to get clean and sober. In fact, she gives him money when she knows he'll be using it to buy drugs. She even smokes dope in from of him when he is desperately trying to remain clean and sober.Joel is languishing in a coma and Audrey is resistant to turning off life support. All of a sudden, a secret is exposed that threatens the integrity of the family's beliefs about themselves. As readers, we are privy to the hypocrisies that abound before this secret. They, however, are not. How they deal with this secret, this new information, makes for an interesting situation.This book is filled with complexities along with sympathetic yet unlikable characters. We are torn between laughing at them or laughing with them. I found myself thinking that many situations reminded me of when I was a child and a friend fell off a bike. I inadvertently found myself laughing even though I didn't want to and even though I wanted to help my friend. It was an automatic response, almost like a hiccup. This book creates the same sought of deep and primitive responses that arise before the facade of civilization has the time to sieve and sort. This is a grand book by a brilliant author.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-15 07:04

    Book club selection for December. I really liked Heller's writing, and her portraits of the characters were so unsparing and insightful. Unfortunately, some of the actions and dialogue don't ring true. The plot becomes a bit mundane and predictable, and only the completely outrageous and rather unbelievable actions of the protagonist(anti-hero?)keep the reader interested. I really like some of the story lines, but I feel like it would have been more effective as a collection of short stories related to the family. The first chapter would be a very satisfying short story all alone, especially as the characters introduced are either absent, or unrecognizable in the remainder of the novel. I enjoyed learning about orthodox Judaism and exploring how a person raised in an atheist home could be attracted to make such a radical change. I also felt Karla's personality was the most available to the reader, and though I found her affair a bit unlikely, I did like the portrayal of her marriage and the characterisation of her husband.

  • Kasa Cotugno
    2019-02-20 23:58

    In a recent q & a following an interview with Zoe Heller, a woman who had already read this latest book complained that the characters were not likable, that she wouldn't want to have any of them for a friend. Unflappable, Heller rejoined that one shouldn't go looking for friends between the pages of books. Now that I've read the book, I have to disagree with the complainant. Yes, the mother and her two daughters at the center of this book have unattractive qualities, but that only makes them the more intriguing in their complexities. There is one scene between Audrey, the mother, and her son Lenny, in which she could possibly lose all sympathy, but as the story progresses the reader realizes Audrey's best friend doesn't desert her even after witnessing the confrontation. Readers need not be so judgmental about characters' actions and motivations. A well written, compelling novel instills in the reader a desire to know what happens after the author is done. This is such a book, and one can only hope for a sequel.

  • Sibyl
    2019-02-23 08:04

    I found this novel highly readable. It was like eating decent quality chocolate. I wanted to go on and not stop till the story was doneThere's a (very) sick father, an enjoyably monstrous mother, three 'problem' children and a few skeletons in cupboards. Overall we get a group portrait of the dilemmas of well-off progressive New York Jews in the early 21st century, as America lurches to the right.And Heller's a good writer. The pace never slackens. There are some brilliant phrases and description. She walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy with assurance..Afterwards though, it just seemed a bit safe, a bit formulaic. It hadn't told me anything I hadn't known already. In retrospect the various twists and turns of the plot seemed predictable - even a bit forced in places.So there's plenty of intelligent entertainment here. But I'd have liked to be taken somewhere genuinely new, to have been surprised...

  • Lauren
    2019-03-13 23:51

    While this book was not as great as I'd hoped it would be, it reminds me that even disappointing novels are more engaging, vibrant and thought-provoking than bad TV. I didn't want to put it down. I felt the characters were a bit predictably static (and this wasn't part of some larger literary device), yet, they were all immediately familiar in an appealing way. I am a sucker for books that have something to do with leftist lawyers and their dysfunctional families (I loved reading Family Circle last summer and strongly recommend it as well as The Last of Her Kind), but beyond that, Zoe Heller is terrific storyteller. I can't wait to see what she does next.

  • Diana
    2019-03-19 02:37

    Wow--I couldn't put it down--every character in this novel about a New York city family is so fully drawn and believable. The matriarch of the family, Audry, who is outlandish and entertaining, could have been cartoonish, but Zoe Heller deftly gives us insights into her behavior that make us accept her as a character. No one in the book is particularly loveable or noble, but that is what makes it so interesting, and fun. This book exposes people in all of their hyprocrisies and weaknesses, for better and worse, in a family that feels familiar, in every scene. Heller's prose is immaculate, and her conversational threads read like real life.

  • Briana
    2019-03-10 02:41

    I read this on the plane/in the airport yesterday in a few hours. It's a book full of characters who are either miserable or loathsome (or both), and it was fun to read in kind of a train wreck kind of way, but I can't really recommend it. I thought the satire of aging leftists in 9/11-era New York was overly broad, and was done much more effectively in The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud a few years ago. I really, really enjoyed Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller quite a bit, so this book was really a disappointment. However, I do find her work compulsively readable, and I like her caustic world view, so I'll give her next novel a shot.

  • Elsa
    2019-03-11 01:37

    Not my cup of tea.Me esperaba algo más. Estaba esperando un "descubrimiento devastador '- como se promete en la contraportada - y aún sigo esperando .La única razón por la que le doy estrellas es porque está muy bien escrito y el personaje de Karla me ha gustado (aunque podría haber desarrollado más su historía sobre la infertilidad).

  • Wendy
    2019-03-15 03:04

    It's well-written.It flows well.The characters are all people I'd like to throw under a bus. I've heard it said that it's not the job of an author to create characters you want to be best friends with. Okay, so maybe there are authors who like to explore themes and big ideas, and in doing so create a story with a purpose beyond storytelling. And maybe not all characters should be likable because it won't create any conflict and the story will be kind of flat and boring. However, there are enough unlikable people in the world that I have to spend time with; why would I want to sit down and read a book where almost every main character is so loathsome? I swear, by the end of it I was laughing when something happened to piss Audrey off. I honestly don't understand it. Maybe there are families like that out there. But I don't want to know them.Still, Heller writes well and these people are well-drawn. I also felt some emotions while reading this book (mainly disgust and annoyance, but also some compassion and empathy). Also annoying is that the author uses British colloquialisms and slang from her American characters. The story takes place in NYC and the mother in the family is English, so I might be able to believe that the Litvinoffs - the family in question - got those phrases from her. But there are plenty of characters who have never set foot outside NYC who use the same expressions, particularly "meant to" in a way that Americans usually use "had to," "have to" and "gotta" (this isn't a direct quote, because I don't feel like taking the time to look one up, but it would read something like this "She was meant to go to the store for bananas" or "he was meant to clean up his mess"). I don't know if this is the editor's problem or the author's, but it became distracting after a while. All in all if you have the book and don't mind wasting time with horrible characters/people, go for it. There is something compellingly readable about it. Sort of like watching a movie on Lifetime TV.

  • Kristin
    2019-03-06 04:51

    Hmm. I am a big Zoe Heller fan and was excited to read this. But I found myself skimming the last half of the book. (Slight spoilers ahead.)The matriarch of the family, Audrey, is very difficult to like, which I suppose is the point, but just one mini-catharsis amongst her horrid treatment of others doesn't really set up the ending well. Her daughter Rosa's story, focused on Orthodox Judaism, gets incredibly preachy at times, and makes me think that Heller had a similar experience in her youth and felt she should share it. Lenny's drug-addled existence is far too neat and tidy, and Karla's story could have gone much further with her infertility and it's a shame it wasn't pushed. Audrey's friend Jean was a lovely character, but I don't see why she continued to befriend the family for decades - the foundation of her involvement with the family seemed to be dealing with Audrey's bile. The pace was great in the first half of the book but teetered off towards the end. I'm just a bit disappointed - I like Heller's writing so much, and really feel she had the foundations in place for a remarkable read.

  • Katie
    2019-03-14 03:42

    I'll get back to you on this one, but my initial feeling is that while the prose can be wonderfully descriptive ("Up close, the three men were a small anthology of body odors"), the characters are so AWFUL, so sure of themselves in their political stances and moral superiority that even though it's clear that the author shares my opinion of them I am not sure I will be able to make it through. ****It took me awhile to get back to this review, because I wanted to think about why I disliked the characters so much -- I'm going to admit that they hit kind of close to home. That said, and again, while I think this is a very well written novel, parts of which have stayed with me in the last few weeks, I don't feel like I need to hang out for several hundred pages with people (or, uhm, parts of myself) I kind of avoid in my day to day life. Also, maybe social satire is not really for me?

  • Vicki
    2019-02-20 00:45

    I read "Notes on a Scandal" and really liked it, so I was eager to read "The Believers", and enjoyed it very much. I wanted to slap most of the main characters -- they were totally selfish and clueless about the needs of others -- but they were also very real. Despite being very annoyed with these people, the writing was so wonderful that I wanted to just keep reading. This book would be great for discussion, I think. It has lots of meaty issues and characters with lots of flaws to talk about! Keep writing, Ms. Heller! (I was thinking while I was reading about how prickly and hypersensitive many of the characters were, and how exhausting it would be to hang around with them. Then I realized that there is someone in my own life who is just as prickly -- and I find that person exhausting! Another topic for discussion!)

  • Larry H
    2019-03-14 05:47

    This was a terrific, thought-provoking book. Zoe Heller really is a fantastic writer, because not only did she take a story that I've seen so many times (husband has a stroke, wife discovers secret about husband and has to deal with it, children struggling with their own issues) and make it seem fresh, but she kept me reading (and enjoying) a book populated with characters who were fairly unredeeming. I'll admit the summary of the book on the inside front cover makes it seem like it will be a bit heavy in terms of exploring people's struggles with faith, but although it does play a bit of a factor, it's not heavy handed. Audrey Litvinoff and her family (even her extended family) are all flawed in their own ways, but you find yourself hoping they'll come out of their struggles fairly unscathed. This was a terrific follow-up to Heller's last book, Notes on a Scandal.