Authors have always done a great job of painting for readers a picture of what taboo situations look like from the inside: such as the environment in which kidnapped families live (i.e: Room by Emma Donoghue), or the life of a transgendered person (such as Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenedes). And Heft by Liz Moore is right along those lines; beautifully, eloquently, and heartbreakingly so. We – Americans – have been fascinated with obesity for at least a decade, what with reality TV shows (Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, Biggest Loser, approximately half of the shows on TLC), HBO documentaries, and the myriad nutrition, diet, and exercise books that are published every year. We go on fad diets, we starve ourselves, we spend exorbitant amount of money on yoga clothing. But we do not ask ourselves why we are overweight. Not we as a nation…we as individuals. We do not say, “April, honey, why did you just eat all of that? Were you hungry? Lonely? Angry?” Heft puts us right inside the mind of compulsive eater and recluse, Arthur Opp, and helps readers confront the idea that maybe their eating habits are leftovers from sad childhood events, scary adulthood interactions, death, sadness, anger.
Heft: a novel by Liz Moore is absolutely one of the most fascinating “inside look” works of fiction I have ever read. Arthur weighs over 550 pounds and his only relationship has been with former college student and pen pal, Charlene. (His life as a recluse began on 9/11, At the bottom of my stoop I looked up at the top of my own twelve steps and vowed that I would not leave again, because you see I had no one to call, and no one called me on that day, & so that’s how I knew I did not need to go out of my house anymore. p.16) But as it turns out, for the past nearly 20 years they had both been lying to each other. Their extreme loneliness drove them to reckless habits, one which had irreversible effects.
The parallel storyline to Arthur’s was not Charlene’s story, but the story of the already-fatherless son she leaves behind. Handsome, popular, and dirt poor, Arthur “Kel” Keller has dreams of being a New York Met, but his mother’s disease and subsequent death leaves him distraught and confused, and not sure how to go on. Kel’s loneliness parallel’s Arthur’s very much.
I must return to the story of Arthur, the very sad story. Estranged father from age 8, a mother dead by high school’s end, Arthur’s inner thoughts as a man and as an obese man are difficult to read at times. I’ve seen the reality TV shows, I’ve watched the documentaries…but this is different. If I hadn’t Googled a picture of her, I would swear that the author of the novel was herself morbidly obese. How can she know these thoughts if she were not? Oh, right…the same reason I – a 26 year old woman standing 5’7, weighing 145 lbs – know. Because no matter your weight, if it was ever an issue, if you have ever felt insecure because of your appearance, the thoughts are the same. The insecurities, the hopes and dreams, the prayers, are the same. “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven, it goes…Please let me eat well tomorrow. Please let me eat healthy and good. Please let me loseweight.” p.223.
I recommend this book to anyone who needs to know that they are not alone in the world. That being alone is fine, if you’d like to be. (I truly enjoy some alone time once in a while!) But that loneliness is not necessary. You need only open the door when someone knocks on it, and ask them to come in.