Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Believers by Zoe Heller

A friend of mine mentioned this book in her facebook status. She recommended it with a warning for those sensitive to stories about dysfunctional families. Hmmm... sounds right up my alley.

What I liked about this book, is what I liked about the other Zoe Heller book I've read (Notes from a Scandal). She has a knack for creating complex characters. They're real people, not good or bad, just people, trying to do the best they can to get through the day. She lets her readers into her characters' heads and provides an understanding as to why they do and say the things they do.

This particular story is about a family in which the father has just suffered a stroke. The story isn't necessary about the father's stroke, but rather begins at that point. Then the reader learns about the mother and the two daughters and their adopted son. I suppose the best way to describe this book is that it's about a family and the different personalities that make up a family. It's about the difficult interactions between parents and siblings. Everyone is searching for meaning in their own way - through work or religion or politics or relationships or most likely some sort of combination of those elements.

The family was very politically minded, the father a well-known lawyer fighting for social justice. His wife stood proudly by his side, her identity tied closely to his. They raised their children to think and believe as they did. One daughter went to Cuba and then decided to devote herself to helping young girls in New York City and another married an important man in a union. But both begin to realize they aren't satisfied in their lives. Maybe because they were living the lives their parents told them to live, and not the lives they wanted.

As adults the children are beginning to question their beliefs and trying to figure out what is real and what works for them.

I enjoyed this book. I liked the daughters. I felt so close to them and wanted so much for them to find happiness. I thought the mother was a bit horrible, but I think she truly believed in the life she'd left, which I assume is where the title comes from. She believed and wanted her family to do the same. The family was very opposed to religion, but in a way, created their own religion in their home. But with their leader -- their father -- gone, the foundation of this "religion" begins to crumble. Their reality becomes an illusion as the truth emerges.

I do recommend this book. It's an interesting, well-written story.

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