Thursday, May 17, 2007

This book will make your evening

A. M. Homes' "This Book Will Save Your Life" has already made a bit of a splash, a surprise Richard and Judy choice, perhaps, for this established, but ironic American writer. I've always liked her short stories, full of splintered debris, yet with a kernel of real truth. The cover of this new novel is strewn with doughnuts, and it seems not an inappropriate - or inadvertent - symbol. Our "hero", Richard, is a man in his fifties with nothing in his life that is not paid for - his cleaner, his trainer, his nutritionist. The "hole" being his relationship with his apparently callous ex-wife and his son, Ben, who is just coming on a trip across America, to end up in L.A. In a Los Angeles that is both insane, and utterly plausible, a corruscating pain, whilst he's in his apartment is the signal for his life to start filling up again - with the detritus of people and events that he starts to find by simply going out and looking for them. He has been asleep, and opens his eyes to find that the world is raucous, overwhelming, and willing to engage with him. A whole cast of absurd but plausible characters come his way, each in their own way similarly yearning to fill the vast holes in their life. Richard recreates a new family, a new group of friends from nothing - his own wealth, and time on his hands, allowing for this fantastical reconnection. Yet he also needs to relocate, as his own house starts to fall into a hole, a precursor perhaps of L.A.'s inevitable dicing with the San Andreas Fault. Homes is both a true original, and sometimes irrevocably an echo of other writers. There is DeLillo's punchy New York dialogue, discussing everything with a quickfire wit, more Seinfeld in Homes, than Salinger; then there is an echo of Heller's grumpy satire of middle-age, the sardonic "Something Happened", and then again the pathos of Coupland's "Girlfriend in a Coma" - perhaps this books' closest twin - or Easton Ellis at his most flippant. Yet these precursors don't really do justice to her surface level joi de vivre - the "trip" is a vastly enjoyable one, as the insane minutiae of rich (of course) L.A. life is satirised and amplified. Richard - this non-involver - becomes the Good Samaritan, saving lives by chance in a post-Lost American interior. It's a long book though, and once the cast has been assembled, there's a sense of the book itself falling into a hole, as the middle section sags under its peculiarity. Yet as soon as his son arrives, the tone darkens, the plot thickens, and the modus operandi becomes focussed. The last third of the novel is astonishing, a tour de force of chance, serendipidity, hope and regret. Richard's own memory-free past - his own hole - is filled in, and the limp macrobiotic diet he's been existing on gives way to a more doughty doughnut filled existence. It feels like a book that is post-disaster - though the disaster's are personal, never spoken of, again, like Coupland's "Girlfiend in a Coma" - yet the novel also comes to a head. Not to give the game away, the tropes and tricks that have both entertained us, and at some point enraged us, fall by the way side as the bigness and insanity of this vast coastal city takes over. Its a powerful, rollercoaster of a novel, that even at its most infuriating, never fails to entertain - yet Homes is far more than a party trickster. If the "everyman" here is at times a little predictable in his past mistakes, and insecurities, it is his humanity, that in the end gives the novel its humanity and it's not inconsiderable power.

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