Published by: Norton, W. W. & Company
Published on: September 4, 2012
Page Count: 368
My Reading Format: Audiobook purchased from Downpour.com using my monthly credit.
Audiobook Published by: Blackstone Audio
Narrators: Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka
Audiobook Length: 11 hours 44 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
Notes: I purchased this title because it was nominated for a 2013 Audie Award in the Literary Fiction category. I am posting this review as part of the Armchair Audies challenge.
Summary from the Publisher:
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 difficult family life. 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 shatters their isolation. Told with warmth and intelligence through Arthur and Kel’s own quirky and lovable voices, Heft is the story of two improbable heroes whose connection transforms both their lives. It is a memorable, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive novel about finding sustenance and friendship in the most surprising places.
I could not help but get caught up in the world Liz Moore created in Heft. It’s not often that I open a book or begin listening to an audiobook and find that one of the main characters weighs over 500 pounds. He is a recluse for obvious reasons, but Arthur Opp’s story took me aback. While I quite thankfully weigh no where near 550 pounds, I could so very much relate to his story. Arthur is a compulsive eater. He has been since his childhood. We may have led vastly different lives Arthur and I, but his story reminded me so much of my own. I too eat compulsively and saw in his life a possible future for me and I was horrified. The lack of mobility, the leading one’s life via television or books, the lies told to one’s friends to cover up one’s shame, and the fear of other people and what they might be thinking scared me to death. That being said, I liked Arthur quite a bit. He is generous and kind to others. While he knows the worst about himself, he never once judges other people for their weaknesses. Throughout I kept thinking if only Arthur treated himself with the same consideration as he treated others he would be in a much better place. He may have had significant faults that are so visually obvious to anyone he might have met, but he had inner strength as well that kept him going and enjoying what he could out of his life.
While Arthur was the focal point for me in this book, Heft is also told from the perspective of Kel Keller. Kel is a high school senior who should have the world by the tail. He is an all around excellent athlete, but he shines on the baseball field. His talent is so great that he’s been scouted by a professional team. What most people don’t know is how his home life holds him back. He goes to a prestigious high school outside of New York City, but he and his mother live in a run down house in Yonkers. He is embarrassed of his home and what his mother has become. At the same time, he loves his mom and is trying to plan for the future in a way that he can continue to take care of her. It was impossible for me not to get caught up in his story.
Heft was my first experience with the work of narrators Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka. Szarabajka narrates Arthur Opp’s story while Heyborne narrates Kel’s. Szarabajka fully embodied Arthur Opp and I adored his work. I cannot imagine another narrator doing a better job. His work with the character Yolanda was absolutely amazing as well. Perhaps in part because Arthur began the novel, I had more difficulty getting into Heyborne’s narration. I grew to appreciate his narration by the end of the book, but he didn’t click with Kel as immediately as Szarabajka did with Arthur. I can’t exactly pinpoint why that is, but it didn’t take away from the experience of reading Heft either. I look forward to future audiobook experiences with both narrators, especially Keith Szarabajka.
There was a good portion of the book that was downright bleak. What I remember the most from this experience, however, was the sense of hope. By the end, I could feel the sun shining down on both Arthur and Kel. Neither of their lives might have been what they had dreamed, but there was a good future out there for them both. I also left that book with my own sense of hope. Attempts to conquer poor eating habits and to lose weight often feel as heavy as twice the extra weight I’m carrying. Arthur became so real to me by the end of this book that I still remember the day I finished it, April 3rd. It was then that I began taking baby steps of my own. It’s a long haul and things have not gone perfectly, but if Arthur Opp is willing to take this walk, so am I.