Feature

Novel of the week: The Believers by Zoë Heller

With<em> </em><em>The Believers, </em>the author of <em>What Was She Thinking? </em>may have created her finest social satire yet. &nbsp;

(Harper, $25.95)

Zoë Heller has become “a master of misanthropy,” said Heller McAlpin in the Los Angeles Times. Her latest novel—like her 2003 best-seller What Was She Thinking?—is built around an “unpleasant, outrageous, sharply funny” protagonist.

In the leftist matriarch Audrey Howard, Heller “paints a marvelous portrait” of a woman whose cynicism has hardened from a pose into a sort of sickness, said Mary Ambrose in The Boston Globe. After her husband, a crusading lawyer, slips into a coma, Audrey must confront revelations about his past even as she grapples with their children’s failure to live up to her expectations. One, Karla, has become a morose housewife struggling to get pregnant. But Rosa’s offense is worse—abandoning the family’s proud atheism for Orthodox Judaism.

Heller’s “perverse wit” deftly exposes the “sanctimonious attitudes of true believers,” religious and otherwise, said Connie Ogle in The Miami Herald. But she does something more, showing how Audrey’s hypocrisies are a burden even to herself. Heller humanizes her “often prickly New Yorkers” and allows them to grow—making The Believers her finest social satire yet.

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