This Book Will Save Your Life
By A.M. Homes.
In A.M. Homes’s darkly sweet and funny new novel, this passes for inspirational optimism: “…[We] build houses on cliffs, on fault lines, in the path of things, and when something happens, we don’t learn history, we build it again, right on the same spot, bigger, better.”
Richard Novak is as emotionally numb as he is independently wealthy. He long ago abandoned his family on the East Coast—a Nobel-worthy brother; a tough, workaholic wife; an estranged teenage son—for a hermitic Los Angeles existence. Here, in the hills where houses are stacked upon houses, Richard has constructed an ad hoc family of personal trainers, nutritionists, house keepers, art dealers and interior decorators. Every physical need is provided for, everything is in order. But this careful construct is shaken up when a mysterious pain sends Richard to the hospital and a geological event threatens to swallow his house.
He is thrust into a woozy LosAngeles populated with stoner insurance agents, doughnut-wielding immigrants, screenwriting municipal workers, reclusive writers, down-to-earth movie stars and (possibly) a saber-toothed tiger. Everyone is looking to survive. Along the way, Richard discovers he can rescue a woman from a kidnapper, a horse from a sinkhole, a desperate housewife from her loutish family and a drunk from the ocean, but he can’t seem to save himself. By the time Richard’s angst-ridden son arrives in town on a road trip, it seems everyone is in need of a little rescuing.
Homes, rightly beloved for her surreal dissections of contemporary middle-class America (Music for Torching, The Safety of Objects), has transcended the typical formula of Distant White Man + Interaction With Quirky Characters = Salvation. The narrative ranges far and wide, perfectly capturing our shattered contemporary dialogue and examining how families—both biological and incidental—can always provide sanctuary.—Jeb Gleason-Allured