Friday, January 01, 2010

The Believers by Zoe Heller

I found this book on a "best of 2009" list online, thought it sounded interesting and decided to give it a try. It's well-written, but I found it hard to become absorbed in this book. The premise is that a family of liberal, social activist, militantly atheist ex-jews in New York City becomes unravelled when its patriarch is struck down with a coma. Big secrets are revealed, people's lives change, etc etc.

The thing that made it hard for me to get into The Believers was the characters -- they were just so aggressively unlikeable. Although they each underwent some growth during the course of the novel it seemed like most of that took place "off-page", so to speak, and in many cases I felt there wasn't enough explanation of the characters' choices. For instance, one daughter, Rosa, is experimenting with orthodox Judaism. Over and over again she has negative experiences that seem like they should turn her away from this strict religious path, yet she continues to pursue the religion. I was baffled by Rosa, as I was by most of her family members. I really wanted to know why these people did what they did but the story just seemed to leap from one scene to the next, showing what everyone was doing without giving me enough insight into what motivated them. It's frustrating to read a novel by someone who clearly can write well, to want to like the book but to be turned off so immensely by its characters.

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