17 Books to Watch for in February 2012

A riveting look at life in a Mumbai shanty town, a retelling of Jane Eyre and more.
Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D


352 pages; W.W. Norton
Arthur Opp is a retired, 500-plus-pound teacher who has not left his house in ten years. "Kel" Keller is the 17-year-old son of one of Arthur's former students. Strangers who live in different New York communities, they are nonetheless neighbors of the heart; odd, isolated, but essentially decent, they both adore Kel's dying mother, Charlene ("She was more lonely at the time than I," Arthur observes about the long-ago friendship recently resurrected through letters. "I could sense it, and it made me love her"). In Heft (W.W. Norton), writer-musician Liz Moore alternates Arthur's story with Kel's to create a stunningly sad and heroically hopeful tale of two men from fractured families and the womena high school athlete, a pregnant cleaning ladywho, miraculously, love them. This is a beautiful novel about relationships of the most makeshift kind, about bonds that go beyond the biological. ("I believe we can choose to surround ourselves with a circle of people we love and admire & they can become our adopted family," Arthur finally writes to Kel.) It's also about how, sometimes, even the deepest wounds can be healed by the simplest, smallest acts of kindness.
— Sara Nelson