Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: The Heights by Peter Hedges

Book Review:  The Heights by Peter Hedges

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (March 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052595113X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525951131

This novel, the latest from What's Eating Gilbert Grape? author Peter Hedges, follows Kate and Tim, a married couple living with their two young sons in Brooklyn Heights.  As the story opens, Tim is a history teacher at a private school and Kate is a stay-at-home mom; they try to make the most of their tiny apartment and avoid comparisons to their more affluent neighbors.

The highlight of this story, told from alternating perspectives, has to be the vivid, detail rich-characterization of Tim and Kate.  Tim floats along, buoyed by his unwarranted self-confidence, while Kate takes a much dimmer view of the world and her own flaws.  A new arrival in the Heights, the mysterious Anna Brody, shakes up the neighborhood and Tim and Kate's marriage.

While Tim and Kate are vividly realized, the secondary characters never come to life in the same way: Anna Brody remains a cypher, Bea Myerly a cartoon character, Claudia Valentine an improbability.  (I can say with certainty I've never heard Claudia Valentine's obsession discussed among any group of moms, with our without alcohol.)  This could be because we only see most of these characters through Tim and Kate's eyes--when given the chance to comment, Bea categorically rejects Tim's description of her--but it still watered down the overall effect of the story.

Yet watching Tim and Kate's downward spiral still makes for a strangely entertaining read.  I had high hopes for this book when I read that Hedges had also written and directed one of my favorite movies, Dan in Real Life; although I can't say I love the book as much, it was fun while it lasted.

  • Genre: literary fiction
  • Read it if: you loved Little Children by Tom Perotta and want to compare and contrast
  • Skip it if: you don't like books involving playdates
  • Movie-Worthy?:  It's already in the works!

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