The Heights, Parts 1 and 2

Hello, Bookies:

Wow. There are so many great comments from you in response to the question on my last post about whether you read your books on tablets or old-fashioned hard copies. Call me wishy-washy, but reading your answers through, I was convinced by them all. “Yes,” I said to myself, “why bring more clutter into the house when I can enjoy the convenience of downloading an e-book to a Kindle?” But then I would read comments like those from Ann and Carol and think, “Nothing could replace the pleasure of turning real pages.” So for now, I think I’m going to stay in the sometimes-use-this-and-sometimes-use-that camp. (As a side note, for those of you firmly in the high-tech camp, Real Simple magazine is now available on the NOOK Color and I must admit, the pages look pretty gorgeous onscreen. Other tablet editions are coming very, very soon.)

Now, back to the book: I’m afraid that this may be a rather short post—in part because the first 90 pages of The Heights flew by so quickly. I was immediately drawn into the characters and the setting. As a mother raising a small child in lower Manhattan, I felt Peter Hedges got so many of the details right—the trudge to school, the encounters with other parents in the neighborhood, the klatch of women who gather mid-morning at the local café, and especially Tim’s cruel-but-funny menagerie of parents in the park. (I’ve met more than my share of Pippi Longstockings and Best-Dressed Moms.)

I also found Kate very relatable—she is the prettier, sexier, yet down-to-earth and incredibly-attuned-to-her-children mother that many women aspire to be. And I forgive Hedges for gilding the lily when he has Tim mention in an offhand way how Kate is able to wash and fold clothes, arrange playdates, and precook and freeze meals—all the while working full-time at a do-gooder dream job that has fallen into her lap. (How she manages to accomplish those tasks so effortlessly could be a book unto itself in my harried never-can-get-enough-done-in-one-day world.) But perhaps that is the point. There is something a bit like a fairy tale about the book. The charmed, deeply in-love couple live in a magical kingdom—full of other affluent, educated, and beautiful citizens.

And like a fairy tale, there is a great deal of foreshadowing of ominous things to come. One clue is Tim’s doctoral thesis on loss. “Lose. Lose early, lose often. For it’s how you lose that counts” is his motto. Though not exactly poor, Tim and Kate appear to have much that their far wealthier neighbors envy (including a charming old sled). By calling his book The Heights, Hedges seems to be telling us that the couple has only one way to go—down.

Enter the mysterious stranger—and here is where Hedges started to lose me. Anna Brody appears to be a woman driven by impulse. She gives Kate a beautiful blue scarf after a five-minute conversation on a street corner and she decides to buy the most expensive house in Brooklyn Heights after a couple of brief, not very insightful phone calls. Yet, rather than coming across as a woman moved by an emotional connection to another person, it came across as a little creepy. What do you think of Anna? Does her relationship with Kate ring true? Cleary Hedges is holding his cards close with regard to this charismatic woman. Where does she come from, how was she “bought” by her husband, why is she so isolated? I am looking forward to discovering the answers to these questions as the book unfolds. For our next discussion, let’s read to the end of Part 4. Until then, happy reading. I leave you with a couple of questions. I’ve been immersed in this book on my own and am curious to hear other reactions to the story:

What do you think of the book so far? Hedges has populated the story with lots of familiar characters—the brash, bawdy ringleader (Claudia), the social-climbing snob (Abigail Hosford), the loving, talented gay friend (Bruno). Do you recognize any of these characters in your own lives or are we strictly in Hollywood movie territory?