A Hallmark Channel scenario with the fairy tale setting in Brooklyn Heights, a sweet conflict between man and woman – Peter Hedges’ The Heights starts with the promise of comfort and predictability. Of course, more lurks beneath the surface.
Hedges alternates his chapters between the points of view of the two main characters, with some editorializing from an infatuated student. The perfect young couple consist of: Tim, a history teacher on sabbatical from a private academy, working on his dissertation and playing stay-at-home dad to two preschool boys – and Kate, the stereotypical beautiful young mother who can do it all – fry the bacon in the pan and make it too in a six figure dream job where she gives away money for needy causes. Enter the mysterious and wealthy stranger – Anne Brody.
Hedges rescues the story from being a trite accounting of a young couple with the usual family challenges and temptations by inserting wry humor and attention to the familiar trivial daily annoyances that can lead to crisis. Even if you haven’t experienced the juggling of your sanity and identity while parenting – you will laugh at Hedges’s descriptions of play dates, and sigh at Kate’s guilt when her son asks for Daddy. When Tim’s father, a basketball coach, is forced into early retirement because of a sex scandal, the Paterno Penn State debacle was in the news, and I was hit with the eerie specter of art imitating life.
“On your best day, you think you’re irreplaceable. You think no one can do what you do better than you…But then one day you realize you were wrong.”
Hedges nudges popular culture with the plot twist that involves an “indecent proposal.” In this case, Woody Harrelson would be spending a wild night – “a unique once in a lifetime opportunity,” while Demi Moore is in Disney World with the kids. Hedges maintains the suspense – will he accept Anne Brody’s proposition with the Pretty Woman twist to do everything except kiss?
The last chapters are at once hilarious and miserable – Kate at Disney World, overwhelmed by the attentions of her former lover (an actor determined to steal her from her husband), desperately looking for something real in the perfect world of costumed characters and building facades – even a little trash on the ground would help. And Tim in an upscale boutique hideaway, playing with the light panel and testing the hotel room amenities, while waiting for his assignation with Amanda to start.
This book was the pick for one of my book clubs, or I would not have found it. An easy read – the story is poignant and funny – with some moments of clarity, and ends on a realistic yet hopeful note.