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Modern life and its discontents
In 1999, A.M. Homes told an interviewer, "Life is incredibly surrealistic. Especially where I live, in New York City, the weirdest things happen every day." Substitute "Los Angeles" for "New York City," and that observation provides an apt thumbnail sketch of her latest novel, This Book Will Save Your Life.
To all appearances, wealthy day-trader Richard Novak has skillfully insulated himself from the stresses of daily life inside his luxurious home high above Los Angeles. But one day, a sudden attack of excruciating pain lands him in the emergency room and the defenses he's carefully constructed against real life begin to crumble. His physical safety is jeopardized by an expanding sinkhole that threatens to devour his house. Friendless except for the housekeeper, nutritionist and personal trainer who cater to his needs, he soon acquires an odd assortment of new companions: Anhil, the upwardly mobile Indian owner of a doughnut shop; Cynthia, an emotionally abused woman he encounters crying in the produce aisle of the supermarket; and Nic, a Hollywood writer. Richard attends a meditation retreat, abandons his carefully calibrated diet and even gains some modest celebrity when he saves a kidnap victim who's flashing Morse code signals from the trunk of a moving car.
At the emotional heart of the novel is the reconciliation between Richard and his son Ben, who has driven cross-country with his cousin Barth to see his father for the first time in almost a year. Homes portrays the pain and joy of their reunion without sentimentality, revealing that everything Richard has experienced is merely the prelude to this powerful reconnection.
Homes' novel has the elusive quality of a dream whose fragmentary images lodge in the brain, destined to surface at random moments. While it may not fulfill the extravagant promise of its title, it's an arresting and emotionally satisfying story that effectively captures some of the essence of our fractured lives.
Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.