When I first read a review of this novel, my immediate reaction was mild despair. That’s just because one of the main characters is a 500+ pound man, and that’s not a familiar character in fiction, and I really thought I had written the groundbreaking novel about a 500 lb man. Since my book What You Want is still unpublished, I figured I’d missed my chance to snag publishers and readers with a really original concept. That said, of course I couldn’t not read Heft. Having spent so much time trying to get inside the head of a morbidly obese recluse, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to see what another writer had done with a similar subject.
Once I read the first page of Heft, I completely forgot about making any comparisons to my own work, and became completely absorbed in the voice of Arthur Opp, the main character, who hasn’t left his house in Brooklyn in 10 years. Actually, he’s just one of two main characters whose voices alternate in telling the story — the other is high school athlete Kel Keller, son of the one woman Arthur Opp ever loved, who is trying to find his way towards his own future from a very unpromising start in life. Both characters’ voices come completely alive on the page. I felt so drawn in to both their stories, and the ways in which they intersect, that I could barely put the book down long enough to go to sleep on the night I bought it (and when I say “the book,” understand I mean “my Playbook,” because I bought it as an e-book shortly before it was actually released in hardcover).
Partway through, the way the story unfolded bent my expectations. As with any two-character story where the two characters don’t know each other, I think most readers will assume this is going to be the story of what happens after Kel and Arthur meet each other. It’s not, but I wasn’t disappointed. If anything, it’s the story of what happens in both their lives to make that meeting possible. When the book ends, many things are left unresolved, many questions unanswered. But I don’t think you’ll mind. I didn’t. I only regretted that I wasn’t going to get to spend more time with two characters who completely won my heart.
I know it’s only January so it’s cheap to say this is one of my favourite books of the year, but I bet I’ll be saying the same thing when the year ends … Heft is a thoroughly satisfying novel.