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. Like Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, Heft is a novel about love and family found in the most unexpected places.
Liz Moore is the author of the novels THE WORDS OF EVERY SONG (Broadway Books, 2007), HEFT (W.W. Norton, 2012), THE UNSEEN WORLD (W.W. Norton, 2016), and the New York Times-bestselling Long Bright River (Riverhead, 2019). A winner of the Rome Prize in Literature, she lives in Philadelphia with her family, and teaches in the M.F.A. program in Creative Writing at Temple University.
Heft is about the pain of loneliness, the traumas of addiction, and the delicate ties that bind.
This is a beautiful and well-written story about an obese man, Arthur Opp, and a teenage boy, Kel Keller, who are dealing with loss. Arthur and Kel’s lives are connected through a tragic thread. They slowly find each other as they delve through the depths of loneliness and surface beyond their pain to embrace life. Heartbreaking, complex, emotional, and filled with small grains of hope--I loved every minute of this book!
It’s taken me forever to come up with the words to describe this book, and I have come to the conclusion that I don't possess the words to do this book justice. All I can say is that it’s amazing! Read it.
You know you've read something special when you miss the characters.
And Liz Moore has perfected the craft of creating memorable characters.
This is the second Moore book I've read in as many months, the first being An Unseen World, and l already consider her to be among my favorite authors.
I liken her style to that of Celeste Ng and John Boyne whereas the characters ARE the plot. They are fragile, flawed and soul stirring. And most importantly, unforgettable.
In the case of Heft, Arthur Opp will never escape my memory.
I imagine many will struggle with the ambiguous ending to this one but I found it to be exactly as it should be. As if the final turn of the page is the dawning of a new life for these beloved characters.
In the meantime I'll be over here in my own personal hell waiting for Penguin to bail me out of NetGalley pending purgatory for her next book.
Tutte le fotografie sono opera di Mark Sadlier, autore di quella sulla copertina.
Storia di tre solitudini. O forse dovrei dire di tre timidezze lancinanti. Le due cose sono collegate: e quindi, che vinca la solitudine, è il risultato della timidezza ed è la conseguenza che salta maggiormente agli occhi. Arthur protegge la sua solitudine con il peso: è grassissimo, pesa due quintali e mezzo – i suoi centonovanta centimetri d’altezza non riescono certo a nascondere una pancia immensa, un peso sproporzionato. Charlene protegge la sua solitudine con l’alcol: inizia a bere al mattino e continua per tutto il giorno finché non stramazza. Inutile dire che ha perso il lavoro. Inutile dire che è alcolizzata. Kel protegge la sua solitudine con… eh, qui il discorso si fa più arduo. La prima risposta che mi verrebbe è che a schermo della sua solitudine c’è la sua giovane età. Diciassette anni, e quindi la sensazione di occupare un corpo con valori adolescenziali ma emozioni adulte. Poi aggiungerei che combatte quotidianamente per restare vicino a sua madre e tenerla in vita, pronto a rinunciare e a costruirsi un futuro modellato sulla sua vicinanza e presenza: se lei, mamma Charlene, muore, Kel è completamente solo. Solo al mondo.
Tre esistenze che oltre la solitudine condividono almeno un altro elemento: un sacco di dolore. Ciascuno ha il suo da dover gestire, smaltire, controllare. E il dolore di ciascuno non è del tutto estraneo agli altri due, sono in qualche modo interconnessi. E poi c’è Yolanda, la diciannovenne argentina che entra nella vita di Arthur come colf a ore mandata dall’agenzia (come in “The Maid”, buona serie tv, su Netflix, con l’eccezionale Margaret Qualley e la brava Andy McDowell) e anche lei in quanto a solitudine… E anche lei si porta addosso un sacchetto di dolore… Il compito di Yolanda è ripulire una casa dove lo sporco si accumula da dieci anni scarsamente contrastato (infatti, spunta il topo in cucina): la ragazza è così brava, spontanea, tenera, solidale, che molto presto comincia a togliere la polvere anche dall’animo di Arthur, a ripulire la sua solitudine alleggerendola.
E credo che a questo punto il titolo originale sia chiaro: Heft, che non si riferisce solo al peso impressionante di Arthur, ma alla pesantezza in generale, e quindi al carico emotivo e psicologico di tutti e quattro i personaggi principali. Liz Moore sfoggia un cuore grande come la pancia di Arthur e viene da pensare che se il mondo ospitasse più gente col suo animo gentile ed empatico, non esisterebbero solitudini come quelle che qui si raccontano. E si raccontano con lingua piana, semplice, scorrevole, onesta - che ha l’effetto di trasformarsi in un abbraccio per chi legge – alternando le due voci maschili, l’adulto e il ragazzo, entrambi Arthur, entrambi legati in un finale di speranza che alleggerisce il peso, nella sua dolcezza e tenerezza arriva come un sollievo.
Well... this was a very heartbreaking book... Recommended but do expect a sad story....although... in the end it is a hopeful story too. Emotional read.
When you read the book cover you get the idea it's all about 'former academic Arthur Opp, weighing 550 pounds', and hasn't left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Some day Yolanda comes into his life, a pregnant young lady who is hired to clean his neglected house he never leaves... and slowly his life changes. But really the centre of the book is about Kel Keller, a kid with a very sick mum. The whole story is rather sad, especially witnessing Kel getting lost along the way in the tragic events. It's hard to avoid the tears, for me anyway. All characters are in some way connected and yes, in the end it is a hopeful story. I have to be honest, in the beginning I had to get used to the way of writing of the author and doubted whether I really liked it all that much. But it got to me in the end and, those who have read my reviews, know my saying... when a book makes me cry, it's almost certainly a good book. Here's a scene from the book:
I can barely walk from my couch to the kitchen. "I gotta warn you", said Yolanda, "I'm very slow right now." "I'm slow," I said, "Too." I don't think she knew the extent to which I had not been outside. ..... Yolanda was the one to open the door. "Yum", she said. "It smells like winter." Indeed it did. When she opened the outer door too I inhaled deeply and smelled the park from where I stood: the smell of cold air & fresh things dying. A lovely lonely smell. "Come on,", said Yolanda, and I looked into her sweet face & saw my own mother. So clearly I almost wept. "Really,"I whispered, "I'm very slow." She looked down at her belly and rolled her eyes. "You and me both,", she said. "For real". ..... "Come on, Mr Arthur,"said Yolanda again.... I stepped outside. It was warm for December, just as she had said it would be. .... I was walking. Outside my house. I looked up at it just out of curiosity - I had not seen it from here for so long...
Audiobook: narrated by Kirby Heyborne.... perfect vocal!! NO SPOILERS
I've wanted to read "Heft" for a long time every since being incredibly impressed with author Liz Moore's novel "The Unseen World".
I had also heard from a few Goodreads folks that "Heft" was a great audiobook. I 'think' it was Ron who first raved about this book to me - so thank you Ron.
ABSOLUTELY-- This is a wonderful novel - and immensely holds your attention as an audiobook companion. Strong character development for each of the three main characters: Arthur Opp -Kel Keller - and Charlene Turner.
Arthur, 58 years old, morbidly obese, a retired College English Professor is so darn lovable. -- He's the first narrator Charlene Turner was Authur's student years ago for a short period - but it's the 18 year letter correspondence that they share which is unique. Both have kept secrets from each other in those letters. Kel, 18 years old, is the second narrator. Charlene is who ties these two together There is another character - Yolanda - a housekeeper....
These characters are flawed and beautiful.... and just because Arthur is morbidly obese...Liz Moore avoided stereotyping. Authur's dignity shines. However.... this story is still heart wrenching... ( not in sappy crying tears), as each of the characters are dealing with serious issues.
Themes are of loss - love - loneliness and a strong desire to help. ( which also makes this story heart warming).
WONDERFUL....in every sense of the word!!!! Huge Liz Moore fan!!!
**This Author has a new book being released in January 2020, Long Bright River, watch for it, it is another 5 solid * book***
This book is about two lonely people and how they have isolated themselves in different ways. For one person it becomes too late for her to save herself but for the other there is hope.
There is so much raw human emotion in this book that I felt that I was reeling at times just thinking about them. I got up this morning having to finish the book. The narrators were incredible, the voice of the overweight professor who had lived a solitary existence for 10 years was remarkable. Then there is the sobering sound of the troubled but resilient young high school boy whose mother is an alcoholic, who has heard stories about his missing father and about how much his mother wants so much more for him but isn't able to save herself.
I always write short reviews for audiobooks but that in no way changes the fact that this book is AMAZING. If you want to listen to a book about how the way you live your life really can affect others, read this book. If you want to hear a story of the possibility of hope when things look beyond help, read this book. If you haven't read any really great literary works, read this book, or listen to it, as I did
You will not be disappointed, I guarantee it!!! Have yourself a good day and think about your blessings, because someone else out there is having a very hard time in this life today and is probably feeling very alone.
Oh my gosh there were some tough moments in this book. In this case tough means good. Here I go again attributing emotional moments to how much I am affected by a book. That doesn’t happen every time, but when done right the hard places in a book only serve to make it better. A place in a story I won’t forget. A feeling that hangs with me for awhile afterward. And you know what makes the tough moments incredibly poignant? The healing moments, and the joyful that sometimes follow them. This book was beautiful because of that. It’s not to say that everything was perfect here. Arthur, Charlene and Kel make some choices that you may not like. I didn’t. But I realized that their choices were real. Perfect only exists in fairy tales. Reality means people make mistakes.
I was about to end my review there, but I want to add a word about Moore’s writing. Exceptional. Without realizing it, I felt that I stood alongside these characters. In Arthur Opp’s home. In Kel Keller’s car. On Charlene’s floor. At a point in the book, Moore changes her first person narrative from Arthur to Kel, and I said, “Oh no”, because I really liked listening to Arthur’s voice and because I’m resistant to abrupt change. But guess what? 10 pages with Kel, and I had forgotten that thought completely.
One more thing. Any book that can make me cry, or level me flat, usually gets 5 stars.
Liz Moore has written a book so heartbreakingly honest, I felt I was listening to the characters talk directly to me. Their voices were so real. She managed to convey the inner most thoughts and emotional conflict of both a teenage boy with dreams of the major leagues and a 600 pound reclusive professor who hasn’t been outside his home in a decade. How their lives relate to each other is through the boy’s mother, once a student of the professor, now a sick and lonely alcoholic. This book was one I could not put down. I found myself caring deeply about all of the people - including the professor’s housekeeper who has problems of her own. I recommend this book to all who love stories that don’t end tied up all nice and tidy with a big ribbon, yet still manage to make you feel hopeful - kind of like real life.
One might suspect that a book written about a grotesquely obese academic and a coming-of-age teenager would fall into the “been there, done that” category or at the very least,be reductive in its approach to its characters.
HEFT avoids those pitfalls. The key characters – Arthur Opp, the reclusive and obese professor who has not left his home in over a decade and Kel Keller, the son of the student that charmed Arthur many years ago, are quirky, engaging, and so human they will touch your heart.
Arthur’s epistolary confessional comes first: “My house has grown so familiar to me that I don’t see it…I roam from room to room, a ghost, a large redfaced ghost.” He is hyper-aware of his abnormalcy and doesn’t ask for our compassion, although we cannot help but give it to him. Through the use of the ampersand (&) instead of “and”, Ms. Moore displays a character who is conserving energy. When his former student, Charlene, a troubled and not very attractive woman reaches out to him after two decades, revealing the existence of her athletically-gifted son, Arthur Opp is compelled to take action. He hires a slight housekeeper named Yolanda, a pregnant and feisty 19-year-old, who is his first connection to the outside world. Her character, too, is beautifully developed.
Juxtaposed with this narrative is the story of Kel Keller, Charlene’s handsome and popular son, who is navigating the pitfalls of adolescence along with problems no teenager should have to bear – the alcoholism and deterioration of his mother. As the situation deteriorates, Kel becomes “everybody’s son”, a boy belonging to everyone and no one, least of all himself.
The book presents optimism and hope for the outsider without ever falling into the YA genre. These two unlikely heroes are complex enough to step off the pages and will have readers rooting for them against all odds.
This is a fascinating story, not because the story has a lot of action, but because it is so real. The characters are wonderful, Arthur who had been a college professor, but has now ballooned to over 550 lbs. and has not left his house in ten years, Kel, who is 17 and a baseball prodigy and a young woman who is pregnant instead of finishing her senior year in high school. What these characters mean to each other is the basis of this novel as well as how they change each other. Definitely makes one think about hopes and dreams, the way things don't turn out as planned and how important the people in our lives are. Very well written and touching at one point I just felt like giving them all a big hug.
I guess I can officially call this the week of the fatties. Calm down and don’t get all triggered. I’m fat too so I’m allowed to talk about it (because apparently those are the rules as stated by those who take offense to errrrrrything).
Meet Arthur Opp . . . .
Twenty years ago he was a college professor. It was there he befriended a young woman named Charlene. Ten years ago Arthur stopped leaving the house and watched his weight balloon up to nearly 600 pounds. Thanks to the wonderful world of Amazon Prime and his mailman, everything Arthur could ever want gets delivered right to his front door . . . . including letters from Charlene that he has received throughout the years. When Arthur receives Charlene’s latest letter asking for help tutoring her son he has to decide whether or not he’s ready to interact with the real world again and open his home to a friend in need . . . .
We then meet the son in need, Kel Keller. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just leave it with Kel’s story made . . . .
And I’m heartless so it’s obviously really freaking sad.
If you’re looking for something fast paced with a lot of action, this is definitely not the story for you. Buuuuuuuuuuut, if you want to read about an actual flawed human who is well aware of his flaws, a young kid dealt a real shit hand in life, and a spunky firecracker of a housekeeper as they just try to get through life, you may be impressed by this quiet little sleeper. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you that you might have a feel or two . . . .
I requested Heft from the library as soon as I saw Jennifer’s rating. Now, Jennifer is a lot nicer than me with, but she DNFs when something really stinks and is honest with her opinions. She doesn’t post a lot of placeholder reviews so when I saw her 5 Stars I knew it meant something. I also laughed at her explanation for the lack of review being because she got sucked into the downward spiral that was the first Presidential debate. I’ve been waiting (im)patiently to see what she has to say, but then some other stuff and things happened . . . .
And now I’m not sure she’ll ever be able to pull herself away from the trainwreck ; )
3 for 3 on incorporating “grab ‘em by the pussy” into my reviews this week. I’m killing it!
I am struggling with reviewing this one. For general fiction it was quite different than other general fiction I have read. I had high hopes after reading Moore’s The Unseen World, but maybe going in with high expectations was a detriment to my experience with Heft.
There are some interesting characters, but I kind of feel . . .
And, the story is intriguing and well written, but when I stop to think about it . . .
Then, when it comes to the whole point of the story, the resolution, the big climax . . .
So, are you going crazy yet that I have not finished any of my thoughts? That is how Heft left me feeling. So much great build up! So many great characters! Lots of awesome development along the way! But, then . . . nothing much really . . .
I wanted more! I needed more! Sometimes when you read a book and you are left hanging or to guess what is next, it is okay. You feel good having to imagine what happens next. To me, this just felt unfinished.
If you are okay reading a good book that doesn’t really go anywhere, you can check this one out. Many others did not feel the same as me and have rated this one 5 stars. Maybe that is the experience you will have. However, I am thinking it might be best if you . . .
A thought provoking novel, memorable characters and an excellent heart warming story at its core.
This is a book I have had on my TBR shelf for quite some time and it wasn't getting my attention until a goodreads friend recommended the audio version of the book that I decided to give it a try. A beautiful story with characters you can connect with.
This is a gentle, relaxing read and a book I enjoyed listening to out on my walks.
Arthur Opp a former academic, weighs 550 lbs. He lives in his Brooklyn Brownstone home and hasn't managed to leave it for many years. Twenty miles away Kel Keller lives in Yonkers with his mom Charlene, he is a teenager on the cusp of life but has family issues tend to stand in his way. This is a character driven novel and I really enjoyed getting to know the characters and especially Arthur Opp and why his life turned out the way it did. Its a moving story, but not a depressing read.
I listened to the audio book and the narrators were excellent. A very relaxing and memorable read. I liked the ending of the novel, it gives you food for thought and perhaps I will meet these characters again someday in another novel by Liz Moore.
The more I think about this book, in the two weeks since I finished it, the more flawed it becomes. There was so much to like. Three characters that I was rooting for deeply, even when one couldn't bear the weight of life any more and left, suddenly.
I love ambiguity in my endings. I hate authors (or film directors) that don't trust me enough to tie up some of the loose ends. But ambiguity is not what I experienced when finishing this book. Rather, it was the sense that I had been given hundreds of pages that were very much leading toward a singular event. The event is scheduled...
And then...what? I can't even say, nothing, as had it been nothing, the ending would have made sense for one of the characters. It's as though the writer had written herself into a trap. Painting a story where these two character's lives overlap in multiple ways, but in the end not truly feeling that they were connected. And not being able to write that story, the one where the true connection emerges and is resolved, she gave up.
Perhaps it was the trap of having written both character's voices in first-person (a mistake for Kel, who is often wittier and more introspective than any 16-year-old voice should be, especially one who tells us he does poorly in school and only focuses on sports). Writing a true ending would have meant telling it twice, as there was no omnipotent narrator to fill in what isn't being said.
There is so many throat-catching moments in this novel, l and plot turns that kept me turning the pages. I really liked Kel and Arthur. Even when I didn't buy Kel's voice, I truly liked him a character. And Arthur, as both agoraphobe, and morbidly obese, was a unique voice. I loved the way his story was slowly revealled and the use of Yolanda to help him move forward. But when I arrived at the end, I was horribly let down. Not because it wasn't a neatly packaged fairy tale, but because it was incomplete.
Liz Moore can definitely write. I love her flawless writing. Heft was off to a solid start with its introduction to Arthur, a likable, reclusive former professor. I latched on to Arthur’s story right away and wanted to know more about him.
Then, the story switches perspectives to that of Kel, a teenage athlete and son of a friend of Arthur’s. When that switch happened, I began to lose interest in the story as it took on more of a young adult feel and was more sports heavy due to Kel’s interests. I was waiting and waiting for the story to move back to Arthur and found myself wanting to skip sections, especially as Kel’s life veered off track.
The story eventually went back to Arthur, and I enjoyed how the author brought it all together in the end, especially the actual ending that left some things open that I could wrap up on a high note myself. I know every reader doesn’t like that, but I would rather have an ending open that I can decide than a sad ending.
All the stars for Arthur, all the stars for Liz Moore’s writing; but my overall enjoyment brought my star rating down. I’ve only read The Unseen World and look forward to reading Long Bright River soon.
Thanks to Beth for another lovely buddy read. All the stars to that too.
This is a story about two friends who could’ve been more, once upon a time in their past. One of them is Arthur Opp, an outcast professor who weighs over 500 pounds and hasn’t left his apartment in ten years. The other is Charlene, Arthur’s student almost twenty years ago; now mother to a seventeen-year-old that she has raised mostly on her own. Charlene was the girl whose dreams never took off. She medicates the pain of her lupus and the pain of her depression with alcohol. Heft is an amazingly apt title for Arthur feels not only the weight of his physical body but the heavy social isolation that enshrouds him as well. Charlene’s depression and her own version of an insular world devoid of friends and family, other than her son, Kel, carries its own weight.
This is such a beautiful story because, in spite of the depression and a thick pall of inertia, it is shot through with these beautiful glimmering threads of hope. Throughout the years Arthur and Charlene have kept up a pen pal relationship. Arthur occasionally sends gifts; both guard their respective letters like watchmen over a treasure trove. Then Carlene sends Arthur a letter asking if he will tutor Kel and sends him a picture of her son. “Isn’t he something?” she writes. Arthur is bewildered and hurt when he realizes that Charlene married soon after he knew her. Charlene and her husband divorced when Kel was four. Arthur doesn’t go out anymore. Arthur doesn’t receive guests. His house is a mess.
Arthur takes a big step by calling ‘Happy Maids.’ Yolanda is the nineteen-year-old that they send. Arthur worries about eating in front of Yolanda. He hasn’t been around people in so long he’s forgotten what it’s like. Before he knows it, Yolanda has coaxed him outside. Then Arthur greets his neighbors. Neighbors that he has previously ignored. Yolanda teaches Arthur something else he’s forgotten; the value of friendship.
I listened to this as an audiobook from my digital library. Keith Szarabajka’s voice as Arthur has a tone with a deep chest richness that I loved. Kirby Heyborne as Kel’s voice sounds young and vibrant, and he does a good job of conveying emotions that are appropriate to the story (worry, anxiety). He is easy to follow. Arthur and Kel are the two POV characters in this novel. For those, like me, who have difficulty following a great many characters, this is the perfect audiobook. Arthur is my favorite character. He has a sensitivity that is beguiling. Arthur loves beautiful women and unbeautiful women. He sees something in them that perhaps others might not see. This was what happened when he met Charlene all those years ago.
This was a sweet, yet heart-breaking story about Arthur, a 600-pound-man living isolatedly in Brooklyn, as well as Kel, a 17-year-old high school student and baseball genius. We hear about Arthur first, and maybe that's why I felt the most drawn to his story and character. Arthur is encaptured with loneliness, but still he has managed to make a somewhat cozy and acceptable living for himself - at least if you ask him. Kel was an interesting character as well, but he ressembled a lot of other teenage characters I've read about. Not that that was a bad thing because Kel definitely goes through his share of difficulties as well, but in my eyes, Arthur was the most unique and refreshing person of the two. Obviously, their stories mingle in some way I'm not going to give away here, but it all revolves around the themes of hope, loneliness, glimpses of joy and finding your path in life - whether you're 58 or 17 years old.
A well-told story with quirky characters I came to care about. The book could easily have fallen into a tale full of clichés, stereotypes, and predictable endings but this book does none of that. Highly recommended!
One caveat: in the audio book Arthur's narrator was perfect but Kel's narrator spoke so slow and deliberate it drove me nuts. I increased the speed 1.5x just to make him sound normal.
Loneliness and the inability to connect with others is the over-riding theme of this book. It's a sad state of affairs for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, because of both personal and outside influences, sometimes out of our control. For 58 year old Arthur, it was hard to let people into his self isolated world because of his shame over his weight. For 17 year old Kel, it was shame of his run down home and troubled mother that kept him distant. The link between these two people unaware of each other was Charlene, Kel's mother. The novel slips back and forth between the two men, and the story evolves slowly, but gives the reader information in a realistic way that kept me engaged the whole way through. Charlene may be one of the saddest characters I've met in a while.
Both Kel and Arthur must learn to accept help as a requirement to remaining engaged in the world. Big shout out to Yolanda, the cleaning lady who brought Arthur back into the world.
As Barbara Streisand sang: People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. 🎵🎶🎼
A marvel, what the author was able to do with this story using two narrators, two largely absent characters, and an essentially parallel story. Brilliant, sad, and relatable, this is made better with the audio. This is the kind of story that stays with the reader. 4.5 stars
Initially, I read the print edition of this novel, 'Heft' by Liz Moore but wasn't sure what to make of it. I decided to listen to the audio version narrated by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka and the story came alive for me. After a great deal of time spent sitting with this novel, I am somewhat stumped as to how I can possibly explain the feelings this story evoked. This story was one of the saddest I have read in a long time.... it wasn't the overt sadness that I felt when I read the book 'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green (a story of two teenagers with cancer). Before reading that story, I was aware of its content and had a pretty good idea how I would feel. 'Heft' is quite different. In reading this story, the sadness crept up on me slowly, permeating my thoughts so gradually but consistently that I wasn't aware of it until I realized that when I wasn't listening to the story, my thoughts remained with the characters and I couldn't shake the sadness I felt about them and their lives.
'Heft' is the story of Arthur Opp... a 550 pound former professor of literature who lives in an old Brooklyn brownstone he inherited from his mother. Just saying Arthur LIVES in this old house really doesn't begin to describe what is going on with him. Since Arthur simply walked away from his teaching position years before, he has not left his house. He uses the internet for all of his needs... ordering food, clothing, books and any other goods he deems necessary and has his life delivered to him. He never ventures outside except for when it is necessary to put his trash on the curb for pickup... and even then, he barely ventures to the stoop and tosses the bags to where they need to be. He doesn't (and probably physically cannot) venture even to the upstairs of his home, which remains exactly as his mother left it before she died. He spends his days and nights reading books, listening to music and comforting himself in the only way he knew.... the way his mother had comforted him... with food.
Arthur didn't have one single person in his life... until the day he was contacted by a woman from his past named Charlene. Charlene had been a student of Arthur's .. someone unsophisticated, a diamond in the rough.. and Arthur had taken her under his wing. Most importantly, when Arthur looked at Charlene, he could see himself reflected in her eyes. It was what Charlene represented to Arthur that had meant so much. And when she ultimately disappeared from his life, it was the POSSIBILITY and the HOPE for a future which disappeared.
Continuing to listen to the story, I discovered that Arthur and Charlene HAD corresponded sporadically over the years but both had embellished and fabricated lives for themselves that were false. But that fateful day when Charlene called, the truth on both sides was revealed. Charlene desperately needed Arthur's help. She had had a son named Kel Keller who was now a teenager, a star baseball player and he had no father. Could Arthur provide some much needed guidance? This question sets up what happens in the remainder of the story. Most of all, this question holds potential... the hope of possibility for change in Kel's life and of course, in Arthur's life. So did it happen? You'll have to read the story to find out...
This story made me think a great deal about loneliness and isolation and how many people like Arthur Opp have no one to look into their eyes each day and reflect back the certainty and the comfort that there is someone who really knows who they are. I thought about loneliness and how it is different from solitude. I know people who enjoy solitude (I am one of those people) and who find peace and solace from sometimes being alone. And when I first started reading about Arthur, I thought that perhaps HE was such a person. But the more I immersed myself in his story, the more I was convinced that he hadn't just been wrapped loosely in a cloak of loneliness; his loneliness had become a part of his being. ....to the point that he could no longer remember feeling any other way. There IS a glimmer of hope for Arthur and I'm happy for that at least because to me, possibly the only thing worse than being unloved or unwanted by someone is to be UNKNOWN to ANYONE.
3 stars for me. I can’t go out of my way to recommend this book but it did make me cry (dammit!) so it touched me, in the same way that tear-jerker movies touch me (like Ordinary People, do you remember that movie?). Plus judging from the reviews (see below) everybody on the damn planet liked it.
A brief synopsis: a 550-lb former university professor lives in a house as a recluse because he is ashamed of his weight. He I believe is in in his 50s…certainly not young and certainly not Methuselah. I think he’s 59. His name is Arthur Opp. Another protagonist is Charlene and the only class she took in college was an English class taught by Professor Opp. After the semester is over they strike up a friendship and then she vanishes in person but still maintains correspondence with him by exchanging letters via the US Postal Service. Her last letter to Arthur encloses a picture of her son Kel…he didn’t know she had a son. Kel is her 16-year old son and is a gifted athlete whose self-esteem is chained to his athletic prowess. Then there is Yolanda who is 20-ish and works for a Home Maid cleaning service and is cleaning Arthur’s house after he finally wants his house cleaned because he thinks Charlene is coming over after years and years of him not seeing her — but his house is a holy hell mess, and hence his calling a maid service for assistance. Then she never shows up. What happened to her? How is Kel connected to Arthur? Why is he an ex-professor? Why does Charlene quit her job as a high school secretary? So many questions. You shan’t get an answer out of me! 😊
My biggest problem with the book was the credibility/believability of characters and events in the book. I think we all have different levels of tolerance for credibility/believability when reading fiction, and I also believe those levels can change with time or what kind of mood we are in. So the whole damn book strained my tolerability level and hence my rating. Nevertheless it was a pleasant read, I read it in one sitting, and it did make me cry. 😢 Now excuse me while I go and have a good cry. Oh but wait, here are some reviews.
When I became bored with the Olympics one night, I switched over to an episode of My 600 - lb Life and have been pondering it ever since -- how someone can get up to that weight so easily, how you can eat a virtual feast by yourself but still be malnourished. (Reminds me of Henry VIII.) Fascinating stuff. It was right around then too that I happened upon the audio version of Heft and started listening to Arthur Opp's story, a very hefty gent who lives -- and eats -- alone. I sort of get him, not completely, just sort of. I could understand how that lonely, sedentary life could pack on the pounds, when grocery delivery allows you to get whatever you desire without leaving the house for ten years. FOR TEN YEARS. I admired his taste in TV shows (Cash Cab and Mad TV). His only friend in the world, Charlene, calls out of the blue one day and they agree to meet. He opens up to her about his real self and the lies he's told her, and hires a maid in preparation (think years of accumulated food containers and inch-deep dust). But Charlene never shows up and you wonder if she's turned off by his weight gain and/or lies. But at least he has a clean house, for a while. And a new friend in his maid, Yolanda (a great character!).
Switching narrators to Kel Keller, Charlene's son, we realize that she has major problems of her own and is quite lonely. Kel's narrative takes over a good portion of the book, with his single mother now a very sick woman and what that means to a popular teenager with teen angst about being liked or not, making the team or not, & applying for college or not. I waited rather impatiently for Arthur to come back, because I wondered where it was all leading.
There were some surprises along the way, but unfortunately I found a GR reviewer who spilled some of the beans before I was ready for those beans. All in all this was a very touching story about loneliness, family, and love. It feels, too, like one I will remember with fondness. Certainly any time I watch My 600 - lb Life. (On last night's episode a woman had her 54 - pound stomach cut off like a slab of beef. I just had to share.)
"In some ways I feel that I am everyone's son. That I have many parents."
What a book! I am so grateful for a friend's recommendation of it, otherwise I'm fairly certain I would have never come across it. I think Arthur Opp is one of my top five favorite fictional characters thus far. What a deeply sensitive, kind and lonely man. Sigh. My throat constricts just thinking about the awful circumstances of his childhood and adolescence that nearly stunted his adulthood. Kel's situation just broke my heart, also. But the hopeful tone throughout is what kept me reading. I just love how this novel is both quiet and indignant. Highly recommend. Would love to see this brought to film.
"I believe we can choose to surround ourselves with a circle of people we love and admire & they can become our adopted family."
4.5 stars rounded to 5. More in-depth review very soon. Extremely touching stories of a man & a boy who are interlinked without prior knowledge until stuff hits the fan(s).
Narration Notation: While the dual narration was incredible, I found after the first chapter that speeding it up to 1.25x was perfect for me. I understood why the narration seemed a bit slow (related to the characters), and the narrators did their jobs extremely well!!
Anybody else guilty of avoiding the blurb and plunging in blind? At best, I knew the story centered around a homebound man of very large size. Eating has become this lonely man’s solace. But he is merely half of the story. I had no idea.
As we in the US today overeat and indulge in Thanksgiving feasts, the lure of savory stuffing or cornbread dressing, buttery mashed potatoes, smoked turkey, and vegetables swimming in butter, maybe we can understand the man just a bit. When the book introduces us to the child of a desperately alcoholic mother, perhaps today’s enjoyment of an extra glass or two of wine can help us relate. How many football fans will crack open icy beers or pour tumblers of “brown water” today while cheering on our favorite teams?
This novel is itself an indulgence for readers. Arthur, the shut-in does not make excuses for his size nor begs for the reader’s pity. The teenage boy, too, keeps his complaints to himself - hiding his near-poverty, his mom’s incessant drunkenness, his discomfort mixing with affluent classmates. Their paths will eventually cross, but I won’t share whether we readers will see it or how it’s consequences will play out.
Please. This is not a book about commiserating with a disenfranchised character, marketing itself with the virtues of empathy. It reminded me vaguely of “A Man Called Ove” and also “The Art of Fielding,” yet this is its own sort of wonderful. Indulge yourself.