Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Heights by Peter Hedges (Spoiler Alert!)

I read Peter Hedges’ book, “The Heights.” I was disappointed at the end. The story was worth the read, though, because Hedges makes the characters important. Their dialogue is real—I get the impression that Tim and Kate are based on real people who allowed him to be a fly on their wall. What makes a character important and a book successful (so far, in my mind) is that each character is someone who we know and if not, they play into a stereotype. Tim is my husband, refusing to dress for a black tie occasion and stealing Kate’s thunder when all eyes are on her and he tires of the small talk and says something very obscure and brilliant. Kate is a stay at home mom who is exhausted with her kids and takes a job so that Tim can stay at home (she is not like me in this regard, but she works for an agency that gives grants and pays three times better than she would normally get, which I would love to do, so I can relate to her) Tim has a student who is in love with him—I can relate to that student in spite of his unflattering depiction of her. Then there is Anna Brody and her husband, Mr. Ashworth. Anna is a poor girl who married up, who just wants to be like everyone else and. . . who happens to want to bag average Tim because he is average, but she uses him to get her husband to drop his girlfriends and leaves poor Tim waiting for her at a hotel room. Jeff Slade is in love with Kate and he is a former debate friend from high school who is now all fluff but Kate goes for him after he loads her up with copious amounts of booze, and then she sneaks his speech that he gave to a group of “Wish Upon a Star” (similar group) recipients and when Kate takes his notes where he has his speech, she realizes that he planned to ‘get choked up, pause. Look at Kate. Cry. Smile. Sit down.’ (My book is not right here with me so that isn’t a direct quote.) The speech is important because it contrasts with Tim giving a speech at his father’s retirement party where he was forced to retire because of a sporting sex scandal at his college where he planned to say something truthful about his father, but confetti got stuck in his throat and everyone went wild for his speech. I did not like that it kind of had a moral to it for the masses. “You poor people! Your dull lives are so good! Dull sex every six months is OK! It really is!”

I like how Tim becomes a stay at home dad who tries to blend in with the other parents and gives them all names like, “Mom with Moxie” and “Bearded Mom” and one dad who he simply calls “The Weasel.” (I do that in my head at my husband's church, but my husband gets mad about it when I tell him.) I wonder about the other moms in the story, how they would speak about Tim and their lives.

By reading stories like this, I find that I can relate to my own life better. I am isolated and don’t relate to other women or the pecking order, so reading about these characters that I can relate to helps me see myself better and understand the motivations of others. Like Kate, I have taken the kids outside to trudge through the snow only to realize that I forgot to zip up my jacket and get myself ready to be out in the cold. I can sadly see myself leaving a phone bill for my husband to “deal with this!” and to talk to him about our children taking their first poop in the toilet and not flushing until he gets home. Sadly, I can also relate to utter boredom that they both experience in their marriage.

Tim did what I have done—he blundered at a costume party. Only in Tim’s case, he forgot the costumes that Kate had made, and in my case, I forgot the costumes that I had made! Like me, Tim procrastinates. I know his professors who get impatient with him.

Is this story good? Yes. It was worth the $20.00 that I paid for the book. I underlined bunches of phrases that I have worked into my own work and FaceBook status reports. It’s great because for the most part, I personally can relate to most of the characters. Based on what I have read of Hedges, he knows people like the super rich who add flavor to the book, but he doesn’t develop them. Am I so far out of touch that I’d never be able to relate to them if he did? They don'tneed developed characters because the book was not really about them—they were supporting characters who threw in the temptations for Kate and Tim. They were predators and as it should be in a book like this, Tim and Kate were the prey. They fall, but they get back up.


Ropi said...

Well, here a $20 book is a normal price books. Lexicons and encyclopedias are much more expensive and they lexicons have like 6-7 separate books. I don't really like long descriptions of the surrounding, especially when I read in English, because it contains a lot stupid words that I don't understand. It is quite humiliating to me.

Palm Springs Savant said...

I'll add that one to my list, I actually enjoy things like this.