The Heights by Peter Hedges

August 3, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Tim and Kate Welch have been married for nine years, and have slipped into that comfortable routine (rut?) that so many young, haggard parents of two preschool-aged children find themselves in. They live in a tiny apartment in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn, never have enough money for anything, don’t have to worry about finding cheap auto insurance because they can’t even afford a car, and barely have time for each other anymore. Moreover, Tim is trying to finish his dissertation so he can get his PhD and perhaps start making a better living for all of them. This adds up to a whole lot of stress, discontent, and discord.

Things start happening after Kate decides to take a job with a six-figure salary while Tim quits his teaching position in order to stay home with the kids. This puts Tim in contact with all the moms and the few other stay-at-home dads in The Heights, including one Anna Brody, the beautiful wife of wealthy Phillip Ashworth. It doesn’t take long for Anna to set her sights on Tim (for reasons that are beyond me) and the two are soon making arrangements for a weekend rendezvous so they can “get it out of their system” and move on.

Meanwhile, Kate’s having impure thoughts of her own, as ex-flame and current TV star Jeff Slade still has the hots for her. Jeff comes back to New York to visit Kate, which gets her to thinking about what her life would now be like if she had chosen Jeff all those years ago instead of Tim.

Other threads that run throughout the book are the mad crush Bea Myerly, Tim’s 16-year-old former student, still has on him; Tim having to deal with his father’s disgraceful firing after being accused of sexual misconduct by members of the women’s college basketball team he coaches; and the still unfinished dissertation, which actually ends up playing a big role in Tim and Anna’s weekend.

Liked:

  • I thought the Bea Myerly character was fairly amusing, particularly after she became the Ashworth’s babysitter and discovered that Tim was waiting for Anna at the hotel. She was just about the only enjoyable character in the whole book.

Disliked:

  • Hedges hit just about every single cliché and tired situation out there. I listened to the audiobook version and was able to finish the characters’ sentences a good deal of the time — even though this wasn’t something I was actively trying to do. Tim calls out Anna’s name during sex with his wife? Cue the eyeroll. A weekend to get it out of their system? Yeah, right. Kate feeling guilty about going back to work and leaving her boys at home? Yawn.
  • Why was Anna even attracted to Tim in the first place? This was never adequately explained, and didn’t seem logical given how dull Tim was as a character. He wasn’t good-looking or rich, and had a bland personality. Why would this beautiful woman want him? No idea.
  • I take it this book was supposed to be a “farce”, because that’s what the professional reviewers are calling it. But since none of the situations were familiar to me, and I don’t know anyone like these characters, I guess a lot of the comedy went right over my head.
  • I found the whole adultery part extremely distasteful, particularly because Anna was friends with Kate and tried to convince her to go have an affair of her own. Cheating is bad enough when the spouse doesn’t know the other party; but this situation was all kinds of wrong. And just not funny at all.
  • The “twist” of having Kate cheat with Jeff while Anna stood Tim up seemed as though it was pulled out of the author’s ass. I suppose this was one of the “farcical” parts that was supposed to generate laughter, but all I could manage was a, “WTF?!”

Rating:

I’m not familiar with any of Hedges’s other work (I’ve never even seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), so I don’t know if The Heights is an anomaly or not. What I do know is that it didn’t appeal to me in the least. I found the characters insufferable and their little dramas wholly uninteresting. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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