Its entirely possible that, as a reader, I am stuck in a rut. The Heights, the new novel by Peter Hedges, author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, is humorous and engaging, and a gently insightful satire of Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood near and dear to CSD's heart. Unfortunately, very little of it will surprise you, if you've read Election, Little Children, Prospect Park West, This Song Is You, or anything written by Nick Hornby. The Heights is better than many of those books, but it has so much in common with them that much of its punch is pre-empted.
Tim and Kate are a happily married couple, squeaking by on Tim's teacher's salary in Brooklyn Heights. When a wealthy and elegant couple moves in nearby, Tim develops a little crush on the wife, which is a coincidence, because Kate develops a girl-crush on her, and falls in love with their five-story brownstone house. The book has a lot of loving little digs at the neighborhood - the over-protective parents at the playground, the coffee shop and pub culture, the way that Tim 'dresses up' for a chidlren's playdate with Anna by washing his jeans and wearing his cool pair of Converse All-Stars. Residents of Brooklyn may not recognize themselves, but they will recognize their neighbors.
Its really too bad that this novel has so much in common with previous entries in the genre, many of which are inferior. Kate has a former lover who is now a movie star, just like a character in Prospect Park West. Tim is a teacher, and washes his privates before a potentially adulterous date, just like the main character in Election. The neighborhood moms get together and gossip at Connecticut Muffin, just like Prospect Park West. Tim is the only stay-at-home dad at the playground, uncomfortable around the large numbers of moms, a scenario familiar to anybody who has read Little Children. The long-anticipated affair never comes off, like many of those books. There are other examples as well. Hedges isn't cribbing, but I'm beginning to think that hip, 40year-old novelists in literary neighborhoods only have so much ground to cover, and, by the spring of 2010, it has all been covered. Its too bad, because The Heights is otherwise a very good novel. Its worth a read, but a bit of a letdown after Gilbert Grape.