Friday, August 27, 2010

The Heights by Peter Hedges

This is a story about Tim Welch, a history teacher at an exclusive private school in Brooklyn Heights, and his wife Kate, who begins the novel as a stay-at-home mother devoted to the care of their two young sons. The family of four lives in a small two bedroom in Brooklyn Heights - that is really a one bedroom with a closet. Kate revels in her moments as "the clever mother" and aspires to provide her children with a traditional childhood. All generic enough. Although the idea of a family of four surviving in Brooklyn Heights on the meager salary of one private school teacher seems anything but easy or normal. The Welch family's lifestyle is dramatically changed when they meat Anna Brody, the beautiful wife of a wealth man. Kate, eventually goes back to work and Tim becomes the stay-at-home parent, supposedly working on his long-delayed dissertation.

I was engrossed in this story but found myself detached from the characters. Their humanity (and abundant flaws) was readily apparent and the confessional tone helped to reveal their basest reactions. I enjoyed the inside view of Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood I've found charming myself. It's always enjoyable to read a book well grounded in a place you know and understand. Hedges clearly knows the neighborhood and he fully develops the Brooklyn Heights presented in the book.

The novel is told in alternating chapters narrated by Kate and Tim, and a few minor characters. I found the ending incredibly off-putting as a somewhat minor character had the final word. We find out her interpretation on the ending scene and thus are left with a lot of questions about what actually occurred. I liked the alternating narration, and found this novel entertaining but it didn't leave me lingering in the story or thinking critically about the characters (beyond wondering initially what truly happened in the end).

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