In musician/novelist Moore’s bifurcated second novel (The Words of Every Song, 2007), the two first-person narrations—from a housebound, grossly overweight former literature professor and a teenager in crisis over his future—never converge although they eventually intersect.
Weighing in at over 500 pounds, Arthur Opp is approaching 60, alone and lonely in the Brooklyn house he hasn’t left for years. Since his only friend has died, he avoids facing the world outside his front door; all his material needs are delivered. He spends his days eating. Then he receives a letter from a former student. When Charlene Turner took Arthur’s class 20 years ago, she was intellectually out of her depth. Yet Arthur recognized a kindred spirit. After one semester she dropped out and he never saw her again; soon after, partly due to unfounded suspicions about their relationship, his own career disintegrated. Now Charlene makes a vague request that Arthur tutor her son. Anticipating her visit, Arthur hires a maid, Yolanda, a pregnant high-school dropout who brings unexpected life and energy into his home. But although the title refers to Arthur’s quirky, larger-than-life charm, readers will find his story expendable compared to the struggles faced by single mom Charlene’s son Kel. Kel’s narrative, full of male adolescent swagger and uncertainty, is heart-wrenching. Charlene’s desperate attempts to give him the chances she missed cause Kel to struggle with deeply divided loyalties as he commutes from his working-class Yonkers neighborhood to a prestigious Westchester high school where Charlene used to work as secretary. Handsome and athletic, Kel is beloved by his friends and teachers, who have bent rules to keep Kel enrolled ever since Charlene quit (or was fired) several years ago. Now a senior, Kel is tempted by a professional baseball scout, while Charlene drinks away her days to dull the pain of lupus and concocts her wild scheme, doing whatever it takes to get Kel to attend college.
Only a hardhearted reader will remain immune to Kel’s troubled charm.