Book review: Heart, You Bully, You Punk
San Francisco Chronicle, May 18, 2003
Heart, You Bully, You Punk, by Leah Hager Cohen
The second novel by Leah Hager Cohen, "Heart, You Bully, You Punk," a sincere but weakly executed work, is an exploration of the struggle that arises between the heart and the mind in matters of love. Esker, a mousy schoolteacher in her 30s, has willfully cut herself off from emotion after having experienced heartbreak nine years before, only to have her foundations shaken by a student, Ann, who along with her father, Wally, spend the duration of the book attempting to extract love from Esker's bone-dry heart.
Although the premise is promising, Cohen bogs down her narrative with contrived characterizations and overindulgent prose; in an effort to imbue the book with depth, the author uses elaborate descriptions to project meaning onto otherwise feeble scenarios. For instance, in one scene Ann ponders the banter she's shared with her friends:
"She marvels; so quickly they act, Lamika and Denise, they know just what to do: a little weird moment becomes a two-step, a shimmy and a shake, no fear,
it's swirled up in silvery speed, in the quick-coined insult, fast footwork, dazzle."
There are many problems with this sentence, the most worrisome being the disparity between the description and the conversation that prompted it. There was no fast footwork, no dazzle: The exchange was pedestrian at best. It has been remarked that Cohen has the gift of elevating the mundane; although her latest effort deals in the lofty heights of love, the author succeeds mostly in exposing the gravity that weighs her down.