Liz Moore, 2012
W.W. Norton & Co.
Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade.
Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career—if he can untangle himself from his family drama. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel’s mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur’s.
After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene’s unexpected phone call to Arthur—a plea for help—that jostles them into action. Through Arthur and Kel’s own quirky and lovable voices, Heft tells the winning story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. Heft is a novel about love and family found in the most unexpected places. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—May 25, 1983
• Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
• Education—M.F.A., Hunter College
• Currently—lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Liz Moore is a writer, musician, and teacher.
She wrote most of her first novel, The Words of Every Song (2007), while in college. The book, which centers on a fictional record company in present-day New York City, draws partly on Liz’s own experiences as a musician. It was selected for Borders’ Original Voices program, received 3.5/4 stars in People Magazine, and was given a starred review by Kirkus. Roddy Doyle wrote of it, “This is a remarkable novel, elegant, wise, and beautifully constructed. I loved the book.”
After the publication of her debut novel, Liz released an album, Backyards, and obtained her MFA in Fiction from Hunter College, where she studied with Peter Carey, Colum McCann, and Nathan Englander. After being awarded the University of Pennsylvania’s ArtsEdge residency, she moved to Philadelphia in the summer of 2009. She has taught Creative Writing at Hunter College and the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Writing at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, where she lives.
Her second novel, Heft, was published by W.W. Norton in January 2012 to popular and critical acclaim. Of Heft, The New Yorker wrote, “Moore’s characters are lovingly drawn...a truly original voice”; The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Few novelists of recent memory have put our bleak isolation into words as clearly as Liz Moore does in her new novel”; and editor Sara Nelson wrote in O, The Oprah Magazine, “Beautiful.... Stunningly sad and heroically hopeful.” (From the publisher.)
[E]engaging, quirky…Arthur's voice is engaging. His honesty is funny, even if the revelations of his haplessness are painful…Without archness or overly artistic sentences, Heft achieves real poignancy. [Moore]'s explanation of Arthur's psychology is perhaps too neat, but the warmth, the humanity and the hope in this novel make it compelling and pleasurable.
Carol Burns - Washington Post
A bittersweet novel, Heft is peopled by men and women so isolated by their fear or rejection, they’ve ceased to seek meaningful connections.
Few novelists of recent memory have put our bleak isolation into words as clearly as Liz Moore does.... By the end we are in love with the characters and just want to see them happy.
San Francisco Chronicle
his is not a novel with a happy ending, and that’s a good thing. Moore doesn’t tie her story up in a pretty package and hand it to the reader with care, but artfully acknowledges in the end that some heavy loads cannot easily be left behind.
Arthur Opp is heartbreaking. A 58-year old former professor of literature, he weighs 550 lbs., hasn’t left his Brooklyn apartment in years and is acutely attuned to both the painful and analgesic dimensions of his self-imposed solitude. Kel Keller, a handsome and popular high school athlete whose mother drinks too much to take care of him or even herself, faces his own wrenching struggles. The pair, apparently connected only by a slender thread, at first seem unlikely as co-narrators and protagonists of this novel, but they both become genuine heroes as their separate journeys through loneliness finally intersect. Though Moore’s narrative is often deeply sad, it is never maudlin. She writes with compassion and emotional insight but resists sentimentality , briskly moving her plot forward, building suspense and empathy. Most impressive is her ability to thoroughly inhabit the minds of Arthur and Kel; these are robust, complex characters to champion, not pity. The single word of the title is obviously a reference to Arthur’s morbid obesity, but it also alludes to the weight of true feelings and the courage needed to confront them. Heft leads to hope.
1. Why do you think Arthur has isolated himself? What kind of connection does he want, and does he find it?
2. Is it possible for the characters of Heft to free themselves from the behaviors, the characteristics, and even the physical objects (a house, for instance) they inherit from their parents?
3. Several of the main characters in Heft are outsiders. How does one’s inability to "belong" shape his or her character in the long term? Did the novel reinforce boundaries between different groups? Who appear to be the outsiders in the book?
4. From Charlene to Yolanda to Marty to his neighbor’s wife, Suzanne, Arthur seems more comfortable in the company of women. Why do you think that is? What do you make of these platonic relationships?
5. Why do you think Charlene kept the identity of Kel’s father a secret, even when she knew she was going to die?
6. Do you think Kel will continue to search for his biological father now that he knows Arthur isn’t his? Should he?
7. What are the aspirations of the characters in Heft? When is it important for us to strive for something more, and when do those same impulses become harmful?
8. Why do you think the author chose to tell this story from multiple perspectives? Did it affect how you perceived these characters? What about your impression of the novel as a whole?
9. Both Arthur and Charlene struggle with different types of addiction. Did either of their compulsive behaviors strike you as more dangerous or unacceptable than the other?
10. Is it possible to divide the characters in Heft into those who help others and those who are dependent on others' help? Are there examples of mutual support, too?
11. Arthur and Kel still have not met at the novel’s close. What do you think will happen between the two of them when they do meet? Are you optimistic about their futures?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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