by Liz Moore
I’m a sucker for recluses and wounded souls so I couldn’t wait to get hold of Heft, the story of lonely Arthur Orr, former college professor, who hasn’t left his house since 9/11. Arthur now weights 550 pounds, his only solace is food and TV, his only friend, an occassional penpal, Charlene, one of his former students whose close friendship cost him his job. Arthur has never told Charlene about his problems, his weight, that he hasn’t worked for eighteen years – until he suddenly feels the need to tell the truth. He sends Charlene a confessional letter. It’s been a year since Charlene last wrote, but in response, she contacts Arthur and tells him she has a secret too, an eighteen year old son, Kel. Kel needs help, will Arthur help him? Believing he will have to shelter Kel for a while, Arthur realises he needs to sort out his dirty and neglected house. He hires a maid, Yolanda. Yolanda has family troubles of her own, and is pregnant…
Heft is a story of the gradual thawing of the lives of two people frozen by loneliness, the gradual re-connect to real life and the lives of others. A small story in many ways, an every day tale of people who could not connect with their parents and grew up damaged, somehow; wounded by life.
I can’t claim I ever felt connected to Arthur or Kel, but I never ceased to care about them or wonder what would happen next; Heft is a very readable novel, the story gently gripping. Arthur and Kel have distinct voices, reflecting their – apparently – very different lives, but there’s a thread of disconnect and deep loneliness that connects them both, as does Kel’s mother, Charlene, Arthur’s never-forgotten friend, who’s the loneliest and most wounded of all.
The two stories eventually turn back upon themselves: similarities in the lives of Kel and Arthur emerge; they are more alike than they could ever know. The story circles, Arthur and Kel finally meet – a meeting we don’t get to see, because that’s where Heft ends; perfectly. There’s no neat, pat joyous ending with all the threads tied up in a neat bundle; that would not be honest or real, and Heft is never less than totally honest, entirely real. It ends on a note of hope and a fresh anticipation of new life: Arthur and Kel do have a future, but what those futures hold, is up to you.