The Believers - Book of the Month
by Zoe Heller
From its inauspicious beginnings in London in 1962, the Livitnoff family has grown by 2002 into a haplessly dysfunctional group of grotesque characters living in New York.
Audrey, the matriarch, whose acerbic wit (once marking her out as an outre sophisticat) has become habitual bile, and husband Joel, New York lawyer, darling of the left and, it seems, most of his female acquaintances, have between them spawned two daughters: Karla, who has so little self-esteem that she has married a man whose every dreary action and comment endorses her negative view of herself, and Rosa, a joyless sermonising prig. Their third child, Lenny, adopted in a spirit of socialist magnanimity, has turned out, despite Audrey’s over-indulgence, to be a manipulative crack addict.
When Joel suffers a stroke during a court appearance, some unpalatable truths emerge and it acts as a catalyst for family members to reassess their lives. While Audrey re-evaluates her marriage, Karla finds love in a very unsuitable place, Rosa discovers her “inner Jew” and Lenny cleans up his act.
Heller has pulled off an impressive balancing act: while she reserves the eye-wateringly sharp edge of her satire for believers of every kind – from the observances of Orthodox Jews (some extraordinary detail about unclean women and the mikvah!) to the self-righteous piety of the radical left - her characters also articulate some subtle and thought-provoking arguments about the value of faith and the human compulsion for religion.
THE BELIEVERS is a great read. Heller has tackled an important and difficult subject with confidence and aplomb, she has an outsider’s clear-sighted view of New York and there are some wonderfully dark comic passages.
Read our interview with Zoe Heller.