rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received an Advanced Readers Copy of The Believers from the First Look program at Barnes & Noble. The Believers is the latest novel by author Zoe Heller, who also wrote Notes on a Scandal. I read Notes on a Scandal several years ago for a book club and enjoyed the book, so I jumped at the chance to get an early look at her latest work.
The central character in The Believers is Audrey, a British woman who met an American lawyer, Joel Litvinoff, at a party in the UK in the 1960’s and within a very short time decided to marry him and move to New York. The bulk of the tale takes place in present day New York, where we find Audrey and Joel married with 3 adult children. Audrey and Joel are radical left wing activists. Joel is a a high profile lawyer who frequently defends people that no other lawyer would touch. His latest case is defending an accused terrorist. Audrey is a monstrously outspoken and difficult woman who is steadfast in her beliefs in the benefits of socialism and that organized religion is bad. The Litvinoff family is very dysfunctional.
On the morning of his opening statement in his terrorist defense case, Joel collapses in court after suffering a stroke. He is taken to the hospital where he remains unconscious. Joel’s stroke causes the other members of his family to question what they believe in and whether it makes them happy or not. One daughter starts exploring the faith of Orthodox Jews, much to her mother’s chagrin. The other daughter is dealing with infertility and a marriage with little affection. The adopted son has his own world of problems with substance abuse. And Audrey is in the center of it all, not being the most supportive and understanding mother.
The Believers was a good read with bits of smart, dry, satirical humor woven throughout. Heller does it great job of satiring the east coast liberal elite. Living in a relatively liberal east coast state myself I found a lot of truth in her jabs. For example, Audrey thinks of herself as being a socialist and all people being equal, yet she thinks that her maid should be more deferential towards her.
I enjoyed Heller’s writing and she does an excellent job with developing characters. The Believers was more of a character driven novel than a plot driven one. The narrative alternates between the different family members so that we get a view into each of their lives. Heller expertly describes the dynamics between the members of the dysfunctional Litvinoff clan.
I recommend this book to fans of dry, satirical humor.