In her third novel, Zöe Heller has created a Jonathan Franzen-style family leavened with a little Anne Tyler. The result is a saga in turns delightful, thought-provoking and cringe-inducing, introducing us to maddening but impeccably drawn characters.
The New York Litvinoffs are well-known ultra-leftists, none more so than patriarch Joel, a radical lawyer whose starry career has been built on defending the oppressed. But he's a shadow character here, his legacy looming large (and burdensome) after he is felled early by a stroke and spends the rest of the book in a coma.
Wife Audrey, a brusque and tart-tongued British expatriate, finds herself confronting both the secrets of her husband's life and her disappointment in her children: Karla, fighting obesity and boredom with her earnest husband; Rosa, determined to become an Orthodox Jew in defiance of her agnostic parents, and Lenny, a genial screwup/drug addict.
In the days and months after 9/11, it seems, everyone is questioning their beliefs and loyalties, and the worldly Litvinoffs are no exception. Heller, whose acclaimed "What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal" became an equally acclaimed film, fills "The Believers" with observations so acute they are bound to elicit a feeling of familiarity from readers, far though they might be from rarefied Manhattan.