The Believers — Zoë Heller’s follow-up to her 2003 novel Notes on a Scandal — appeared in England last September; like its predecessor, it was a critical and commercial smash. And next Tuesday, American readers will get to see what all the fuss was about.
The believers in question are the Litvinoffs — an unhappy Jewish family like the kind you’d meet in certain Woody Allen films. When the family’s patriarch, a radical left-wing lawyer named Joel, suffers a stroke, the group’s established dynamic comes unglued. Suddenly, the poison-tongued wife, the holier-than-thou daughter, the fat ignored daughter, and the adopted dope-fiend son have to confront the fraying veneers of their own, imagined righteousness. Heller quotes the philosopher Antonio Gramsci as an epigraph: “The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” One of the accomplishments of The Believers is to illustrate just how tough that is.
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