THE UNPROFESSIONALS

Julie Hecht, Author . Random $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6174-7

At once provocative and insular, this debut novel invites readers back inside the head of the protagonist of Hecht's cultishly popular short story collection Do the Windows Open? chronicling one of the strangest friendships in literary history. The unnamed narrator is 49, a reclusive, hypersensitive photographer; her best friend is a boy of 21. They have known each other for 10 years, since the photographer shot a story featuring the boy's renowned surgeon father. Though they meet occasionally, their friendship is primarily conducted over the telephone, in rambling conversations covering everything from the boy's sartorial preferences ("neatly pressed khakis and well-ironed shirts") to the relative virtues of different prescription drugs ("They gave me clonidine for a while. You should try it") to the maddening behavior of unprofessional professionals (therapists, leg waxers). When the narrator learns that her friend is a heroin addict, she is shocked and saddened that this could happen to someone she knows so well. She begins to reconsider the past: "I imagined him buying drugs from these guys, or getting a tip on where to get some nearby. I knew it and I didn't know it at the same time." As she tries to stand by the boy through rehabilitation and relapse, she berates herself for not seeing the big picture in time to prevent his agonizing downfall. With her studiedly offhand, acute social observations, Hecht captures the particular world-weariness of the new millennium (a not-always-appealing mix of vulnerability, petulance and narcissism), but it is her rendition of friendship in its most essential, pared-down state that gives this novel its undeniable power. (Oct. 7)

Forecast:Hecht has a loyal following, which will undoubtedly grow with the release of this novel. The transparency of her prose and her perceptive chronicling of the zeitgeist give her fiction the appeal of Ann Beattie's early work.

Reviewed on: 08/18/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4165-7890-1
Paperback - 221 pages - 978-1-4165-6427-0
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