Quotes from The Believers

Zoë Heller ·  307 pages

Rating: (4.7K votes)


“Audrey nodded warily. She had never cared for conspiratorial female conversation of this sort. Its assumption of shared preoccupations was usually unfounded in her experience, its intimacies almost always the trapdoor to some subterranean hostility.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“There was a time when she would have lingered to hear what amusing or sinister characteristic the woman attributed to the man's Jewishness - what business acumen or frugality or neurosis or pushiness she assigned to his tribe - and then, when she had let the incriminating words be spoken, she would have gently informed the woman that she was Jewish herself. But she had tired of that party game. Embarrassing the prejudices of your countrymen was never quite as gratifying as you thought it would be, the countrymen somehow never embarrassed enough. It was safer, on the whole, to enjoy your moral victory in silence and leave the bastards guessing.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“There were some people with a gift for conviction - a talent for cutting a line through the jumbled phenomena of world affairs and saying, 'I'm in: this is my position.' Audrey had it. All of the Litvinoffs had it, to some extent. It was a genetic thing, perhaps. Jean had seen a film once, about a troop of French soldiers in World I who were charged with getting a cannon to their fellow soldiers, trapped under enemy fire. For weeks, they carted the cannon around the countryside as their number slowly dwindled. Some were killed. Some deserted. Some collapsed from exhausted. But no matter how desperate the situation became - even when it emerged that the cannon itself was probably defective - the captain of the group kept going forward, refusing to give up. Audrey's attachment to her dogma was a bit like that, Jean thought. For decades now, she had been dragging about the same unwieldy burden of a priori convictions, believing herself honor-bound to protect them against destruction at all costs. No new intelligence, no rational argument, could cause her to falter in her mission.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“She was not so swept away that she could not see the high comedy of this spiritual seduction: a Litvinoff daughter, a third-generation atheist, an enemy of all forms of magical thinking, wandering into synagogue one day and finding her inner Jew. But there it was. Something had happened to her, something she could not ignore or deny. And there was a sense in which its unlikelihood, its horrible inconvenience, was precisely what made it so compelling.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“People always seemed to think that you stopped believing things in a single, lightning-bolt moment, an instantaneous revelation of loss. For her, at least, the process of disenchantment had been achingly slow.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers



“Up to this moment in her life, Audrey had never evinced the slightest sentimentality about children. Insofar as she had recognized them as an independent category of personhood, she had tended to think of them as trainee humans. Inadequate adults. She loved her own daughters well enough - wanted them to be happy and so forth - but they had failed to inspire in her that mad, lioness passion to which other mothers so preeningly testified. She was still in some shock regarding the servility of motherhood - the sheer, thankless drudgery of it. All the cleaning up of messes she had made and preparing meals she did not want to eat. She fed her girls regularly and diligently brushed their teeth twice a day and made sure they were more or less appropriately dressed for the weather, but beyond a dull sense of satisfaction at having fulfilled her maternal duties, she received no pleasure from performing these tasks. Try as she might, she she could not feel her daughters' happiness and sorrows as her own.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“Joel, for all his talk of communal childrearing and tribes, deeply resented the idea that Lenny should have succeeded in evoking Audrey's passion where her 'real' children had failed. 'Karla and Rosa are your flesh and blood,' he would chide her. But these appeals to sanguine loyalty missed the point, she felt. If anything, the fact that Lenny was not hers made it easier to love him. As the coauthor of Karla and Rosa, she could not help but look upon them with the dissatisfied eye of an artist assessing her own flawed handiwork. Lenny, on the other hand, was an unsolicited donation: she was free to enjoy the gift of him without any burden of genetic responsibility for his imperfections. She had chosen to love him. The disparity in her feelings toward her daughters and her son was regrettable, but it was not something that was her gift to correct.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“The story of Carol's transformation evoked complicated feelings in Rose. It appalled her, of course. The idea of an educated, metropolitan woman voluntarily casting off every vestige of modernity in order to make herself over as a medieval ghetto-dweller was unconscionable - but it also inspired a sneaking envy. By submitting to the restraints of Orthodoxy, Carol had not only performed an impressive act of self-denial - an act guaranteed to appeal to Rosa's ascetic sensibility - but also freed herself from the burden of trying to improvise her own moral code. These days, she always knew what the right thing to do was - or if she didn't, she knew a rabbi who did. Every aspect of her daily life was consonant with her convictions.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“How had she ended up like this, imprisoned in the role of harridan? Once upon a time, her brash manner had been a mere posture - a convenient and amusing way for an insecure teenage bride, newly arrived in America, to disguise her crippling shyness. People had actually enjoyed her vituperation back then, encouraged it and celebrated it. She had carved out a minor distinction for herself as a 'character': the cute little English girl with the chutzpah and the longshoreman's mouth. 'Get Audrey in here,' they used to cry whenever someone was being an ass. 'Audrey'll take him down a peg or two.'

But somewhere along the way, when she hadn't been paying attention, her temper had ceased to be a beguiling party at that could be switched on and off at will. It had begun to express authentic resentments: boredom with motherhood, fury at her husband's philandering, despair at the pettiness of her domestic fate. She hadn't noticed the change at first. Like an old lady who persists in wearing the Jungle Red lipstick of her glory days, she had gone on for a long time, fondly believing that the stratagems of her youth were just as appealing as they had ever been. By the time she woke up and discovered that people had taken to making faces at her behind her back - that she was no longer a sexy young woman with a charmingly short fuse but a middle-aged termagant - it was too late. Her anger had become a part of her. It was a knotted thicket in her gut, too dense to be cut down and too deeply entrenched in the loamy soil of her disappointments to be uprooted.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers


“Depression, in Karla's experience, was a dull, inert thing - a toad that squatted wetly on your head until it finally gathered the energy to slither off. The unhappiness she had been living with for the last ten days was a quite different creature. It was frantic and aggressive. It had fists and fangs and hobnailed boots. It didn't sit, it assailed. It hurt her. In the mornings, it slapped her so hard in the face that she reeled as she walked to the bathroom.”
― Zoë Heller, quote from The Believers



About the author

Zoë Heller
Born place: in London, England, The United Kingdom
Born date July 7, 1965
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