Audrey Litvinoff's exasperation with the world rises like steam from the pages of Zoë Heller's "The Believers." A hard-core leftist of the old school, she has scant patience for anyone whose philosophies, political or otherwise, allow for more ambiguity than her own. Audrey's not just the book's main character, she's its gravitational force, and the other characters are helplessly fixed in their orbits around her. When a friend suggests Islamic suicide bombers are motivated by their religion, Audrey rolls her eyes. "That's just what the Bush administration wants you to believe," she sniffs. We've all sat next to Audrey at a restaurant, listened to her socialist-flavored, conspiracy-laced invective, and silently prayed for her to please shut the hell up.
And yet, Audrey is irresistible. She's a horrible mother and a generally unpleasant person, but she's also a dead-on example of a dying breed: the aging '60s radical, still intoxicated by the idea of joining up with her comrades and forging a utopian society where there's justice for all.
Heller's description of Audrey's milieu is flawless: there's the ill-kept townhouse in New York's now trendy West Village, a ZIP code that makes her a member of the same bourgeoisie she rails against; the daughters named Karla and Rosa (as in Marx and Parks); the cosseted adopted son, Lenny, taken in after his mother was arrested for robbing a bank with the Weather Underground. There's her husband, Joel, a prominent civil-rights attorney with a wandering eye and the ego of a pre-crash banker, but whom Audrey nonetheless dotes on like an unreconstructed housewife. It's her beloved's stroke at the beginning of the book that throws Audrey's entire belief system into question. Like so many of her thorny, fiery, real-life compatriots, Audrey is a relic, and soon she'll cease to exist, except in books like "The Believers." The world or at least the West Village—will be a less interesting place without her.