The rabbi shrugged. “Faith is hard, Rosa. Nonbelievers often speak of faith as if it were something easy, a cop-out from the really tough business of confronting a meaningless universe, but it’s not. It’s doubt that’s easy. – From The Believers-
When Audrey Howard meets Joel Litvinoff – a radical American lawyer – at a party in London in 1962, she is a shy and unsure young woman. But years later, now married to Joel and living in New York City, Audrey has remade herself into a brash, foul-mouthed liberal who views the world cynically and lashes out at everyone around her. When Joel collapses from a stroke and lapses into a coma, Audrey is forced to face not only her out of control temper (and the consequences of it), but her loyalty to a serial adulterer whose shadow she has always lived within.
The Litvinoff family is a complex, rather dysfunctional group of people. Rosa, the youngest daughter, is struggling with her Jewish roots and lack of faith; Karla, the eldest daughter, finds herself in a loveless marriage and struggles to develop enough self-esteem to seek the happiness she is not sure she deserves; and Lenny, the adopted son, battles drug addiction. Despite the strong personality of their father, the Litvinoff children are really more influenced by Audrey – whose boredom with motherhood and barely concealed anger at the world (and her husband in particular) dominate their lives.
Zoe Heller has written a thoughtful and provocative book about politics and religion. Thematically, she explores how individuals discover themselves, while residing within a family whose beliefs threaten to suffocate their uniqueness. Heller’s ironic style and black humor are effective in teasing out the pitfalls of all belief systems – whether they be “politically correct,” religious, or socially radical. By choosing a mostly unlikeable protagonist (Audrey), Heller risks alienating her readers. But, instead, her ability to balance the character’s negative traits with the very real human emotions of fear, isolation, and grief allows for empathy.
I enjoyed the twists and turns of this cerebral novel which moves steadily forward as each character resolves their conflicts – both externally and internally. This is a book which will create great discussion about the core beliefs individuals carry as they stumble through their lives.
The Believers is due for release by Harper Collins in March 2009 (ISBN #978-0-06-143020-6)