Living alone can cause you to become inured to the isolationism it creates. I've been amazed to discover after spending the weekend running errands where other people have been around that I had not spoken to anyone the entire weekend, not even a store cashier. A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life tells the story of one man's realization of his own urban isolationism and his attempts to rejoin society.
Richard Novak spent his life accumulating a vast amount of wealth which he continues to monitor through internet day trading from his mansion in the Los Angeles hills. However, he is no Howard Hughes recluse. He is visited daily by personal trainers, nutritionists, and maids who all keep him healthy and vigorous. He is completely oblivious in his Bose noise canceling headphones to the fact that he hasn't left his house in months. Then one day his body lashes out against him in unexplained chest pains that jolt him into re-entering the world.
Richard's trip to the hospital sets off a series of adventures throughout the city of Los Angeles that help him to regain his humanity. As Dublin is to Ulysses, New Orleans is to A Confederacy of Dunces, or London is to a Dickens' novel, so does Los Angeles play a starring role in This Book Will Save Your Life. Richard meets a wise fool of an immigrant business owner at a donut shop downtown. He must contend with a pompous Zen master at a Buddhist retreat center. He befriends a famous counterculture icon at a Malibu beach house. He finds a crying housewife in an organic food store and whisks her away to the Four Seasons.
As Richard begins to reconnect with the world, he slowly finds himself becoming the consummate Good Samaritan either because he is paying more attention to the world around him than most people or because it is the man he always was but had suppressed for so long. However, even his acts of heroism and kindness take on a distinctly LA feel. He assists his movie star neighbor in using a helicopter to rescue a horse from a sinkhole. TV cameras capture his high-speed chase to rescue a kidnapped woman from the trunk of a car. He enrolls the crying housewife in a self-help program that assists housewives in regaining their independence.
The pleasure of reading This Book Will Save Your Life derives from how subtly the story sneaks up on the reader. The adventures and situations in which Richard Novak finds himself are, at times, absurd but come across as quite mundane in the context of Los Angeles. Novak's attempts to begin to embrace the joys of life could come across as cheesy, but Homes manages to express Richard's personality shift as a logical, natural progression rather than a caricature. Although it may not save your life, A.M. Homes' This Book Will Save Your Life deserves a spot in your life alongside other location-driven classics.