Hecht’s first novel, after her glorious stories (Do the Windows Open?, 1997), is both treat and trial for lovers of her earlier fiction.
Here is the same voice as before, of the smartly independent but neurasthenic (unhappy and in analysis forever) narrator who summers in Nantucket and is so wonderfully opinionated about Americans and their society as to raise the ghost of Mencken, chortling delightedly (who else writing today would say, or be able to say, that “I [gave] up socializing with the dull, and then had to give up socializing altogether”?). For those whose brains are still alert with skepticism in this drugged and latter-day age, the voice is tough, spiky, funny, and refreshing—even if its possessor is “a hollowed-out woman without a soul” and does fixate on “emptiness and nothingness.” It’s a voice honest, rigorous, and engaging—but Hecht’s novel just doesn’t provide it with a story that can come up to its level. Here again appears “the world renowned reproductive surgeon” Arnold Loquesto, cold and dour. Now, it’s his college-age son the narrator is friends with, having met him years earlier and still in an intense telephone friendship with him. The two are wonderfully simpatico, and the usual Hechtian sparks fly as they converse and complain (“His whole life, I realized, was made up of these last two crummy decades. No wonder he was cynical and discouraged . . .”) about everything from dumb song titles to aging hippies who wear gray-hair ponytails. The crux is that the boy, raised by dysfunctional parents in a dysfunctional age, is actually a heroine addict—and that, as a result, something dreadful happens. If only the reader could feel for the boy even a quarter of the intensity the narrator does, there’d be weight galore to go with all this wit—but the book tacks without ballast to its half-lost ending.
Unparalleled in voice yet a bit lost in the big room of the novel—as if its pieces were looking for corners to hide in, brilliantly. (For an excerpt of The Unprofessionals go to www.kirkusreviews.com.)