Zoe Heller keeps producing books that could have been great if she had only managed to stick to her original purpose without getting distracted. Her novel What Was She Thinking? : Notes on a Scandal: A Novel was not bad at all, and if you think otherwise, it is probably because you were put off by the pretty weak film version . I have just finished Heller's new novel and at first I really liked it. The beginning of The Believers is simply hilarious, and it's no wonder that the book made the Best Books of 2009 list by Publishers Weekly. Heller ridicules - often in a pretty vicious way - a certain type of self-righteous leftists whose holier-than-thou attitude sometimes conceals pettiness and unenviable nastiness. You can get a pretty good idea about the first part of the novel from the following quote: "Karla always spoke of Mike's job as a union organizer with the reverence of a missionary wife describing her husband's evangelical work in Borneo."
Unfortunately, somewhere after the first third of the novel, Heller decided to abandon this line of her story and turned to creating a trite, boring, and repetitive melodrama. The children of the above-mentioned self-righteous leftists are understandably disillusioned by their parents' political agenda and start looking for the meaning of life in drugs, affairs and Orthodox Judaism. Among these three solutions as they are described by Heller, the drug addiction is presented as pretty much the most innocuous one.
In one of my previous reviews, I wrote about the lamentable tendency of female writers to feel scared of writing an actual work of literature. These talented authors escape from the task of writing good novels by turning to secondary genres. Gillian Flynn retreats into the realm of the mystery genre, while Heller falls into the cheap tear-jerking melodrama. The same as with Flynn, we see in The Believers a gifted writer who is somehow too afraid of her own gift to let it flourish. In our patriarchal society, even very talented women obviously have a very hard time believing that they can dedicate their lives to anything other than trivialities. Trivial literature, trivial lives, trivial occupations; women still often see themselves as secondary human beings, secondary writers, and secondary artists.