March 2010

Struggles in suburbia

By Peter Hedges
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Tim and Kate Welch may not have it all, but they’ve got more than most. Tim is a high school history teacher, while Kate stays at home looking after their two young sons, organizing play dates and struggling to keep her sanity. All this changes when Kate is offered a high-flying job and Tim quits work to be a stay-at-home dad. As if this role reversal weren’t enough to shake up their suburban lives, Anna Brody, an alluring and beautiful socialite, moves into the most coveted brownstone in their Brooklyn Heights neighborhood and sets her sights on Tim and Kate. Initially flattered by her attentions, it isn’t long before the imperceptible cracks in Tim and Kate’s marriage begin to widen, and they realize that climbing the social ladder while rubbing elbows with Anna comes at a high cost.

If while reading Peter Hedges’ latest novel, The Heights, you feel the book has a certain cinematic quality, you’ll be forgiven, since Hedges is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of such hits as About A Boy and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (adapted from his own novel). But don’t let his celluloid prowess dissuade you from picking up The Heights, as Hedges has a knack for taking everyday life and making it fascinating. In alternating chapters, Tim and Kate gradually reveal their story, which helps maintain the momentum of the narrative and is sure to keep readers glued to the page as we watch them in their valiant struggles to survive.

The Heights is a no-holds-barred exposé of suburbia and the strains of marriage and childrearing, but Hedges deftly transforms this weighty subject matter into an addictive blend of melodrama carefully balanced with comedy; it takes real skill to inject levity into the Welches’ narrative, without ever becoming glib or insensitive, and thankfully Hedges is up to the task. His writing helps elevate a relatively simple story, creating a novel that is devilishly delightful. Given past precedence, it wouldn’t be surprising if The Heights one day graces a theater near you, but this is definitely one book you’ll want to read before seeing the movie.

Stephenie Harrison writes from Nashville.

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The Heights

The Heights

By Peter Hedges
ISBN 9780525951131

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