two-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
By: 
A. M. Homes
user_rating: 
0

A-ThisBookWillSaveYourLifeAs L.A. succumbs to natural disasters and a sinkhole engulfs his lawn, the wealthy day trader Richard Novak, a divorcé filled with ennui at the thought of his mansion, his personal trainer, and his decorator, finally finds reasons to live. It all starts when he experiences intense but undefined pain and calls 911; he leaves his house for the first time in a month—via gurney. Though doctors can’t find anything wrong with him, they agree he’s all but dead. Then, Richard comes back to life—to really living—as he reaches out to a hostage, an Indian doughnut-shop owner, a movie star, an aging novelist, a desperate housewife, a trapped horse, and the teenage son he abandoned years ago.
Viking. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670034932

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"People come to life in swift conversation; the dialogue plays like early Mamet and the details are dead on. Part of the fun is watching Homes forge strong emotional connections between characters we learn to care about." Kit Reed

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Homes has a good bit of fun at her characters’ expense, lampooning all but somehow belittling none. … Acerbic social critique of the funny things we do is one thing; acerbic critique that is not dismissive but explores the root and evolution of social disintegration is quite another." Ann Cummins

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"Homes’s dark delivery in her fiction over the years of a modern, alienated America—its hollow suburbs, its fault lines in the culture—is in full regalia here, and the novel is brimming with black-humor set pieces: the paramedics who call in a Code Orange for wounded celebrities. … But Richard’s misadventures, while picaresque, are little more than gags for Homes’s sardonic point of view." Gail Caldwell

Los Angeles Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he novel reads as a sort of inside joke for former New Yorkers who used to live between West 66th and 86th streets and L.A. Westsiders who rarely travel east of the 405 freeway—except to go to Century City, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, or downtown. … There is a moral here, of course: Extending yourself produces a fulfilling life, but it can be messy and without guarantees." Samantha Dunn

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"That existential crisis could lead to great pathos or great comedy, but over the next 300 pages, Richard meanders through a series of chance encounters, reaching out with new interest and generosity to strangers who never become much more than their costumes. … The larger problem, though, is the dullness of Homes’s satiric edge." Ron Charles

San Diego Union-Tribune 1 of 5 Stars
"[Homes] risks losing a lot of her audience early on—the very prospect of spending 372 pages with Richard Novak is anesthetizing, I tell you, anesthetizing—but her prose is fluid enough to carry the story to the precipice, after which it’s hold onto your hat, keep your arms inside the car at all times and look out below." Arthur Salm

New York Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"A. M. Homes’s dreadful new novel … reads like a cartoon illustration for a seminar on men and middle age—a pastiche of all that is hokey, hackneyed and New Agey. … In fact, many of [her characters’] remarks are so ridiculously platitudinous that it’s hard to know whether Ms. Homes is trying to write parody or whether she has simply watched too many bad, made-for-TV movies and self-help talk shows." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Let’s start with the good news for fans of A. M. Homes (Music for Torching; The Safety of Objects): it’s not all bad. A few critics praised Homes’s convincing characters, emotional immediacy, deadpan dialogue, and expert skewering of modern L.A. The San Francisco Chronicle even compared Homes to Kurt Vonnegut (and Richard to Billy Pilgrim). Unfortunately, negative reviews prevailed. Critics described the characters, plot, and onerous moral about the prisons of our own making as cartoonish, clichéd, and tired. The Washington Post sums up the sentiment: "If you’re as isolated and disconnected as Richard, you’ll find the details here surprising and hilarious, but otherwise, it’s yesterday’s news."

Further Reading

City of Quartz Excavating the Future in Los Angeles | Mike Davis (1990): Davis, an urban theorist, explores the social, racial, and economic disintegration of L.A.—and its terrifying future.