So remember A.M. Homes? The clever one? The one who writes books about suburban alienation and the millions of modern existential mini-crises that comprise a life? In Music for Torching, the protagonists torch their house one day, wordlessly letting a summer evening barbeque become an inferno, for no apparent reason other than that the ennui was becoming too terrible. There’s a story in the Safety of Objects collection in which the mother keeps her comatose son in bed in his room, pretending that everything is fine, because the alternative is just too terrible. Just too terrible…
Well, Mock Chicken is heartily recommending her latest, This Book Will Save Your Life. One the one hand, it’s what we love from A.M. Homes: spot-on cultural criticism that makes you laugh out loud from the sheer true-ness of it, set in a surreal city-on-overdrive fantasy world where landscapes float past you in their cheerful toxicity.
Except this one’s about becoming happy. The main character, Richard, who’s a soulless day trader living alone in a hermetically sealed mansion-box in the hills above Los Angeles, has a panic-attack sort of medical crisis that is never really explained. This is followed by the sudden appearance of a gigantic sink hole in his yard. He’s scared and so he starts to change things in his life, reaching out to the people he meets as well as the people he already knows and kind of gradually becoming happy. It’s about looking at something that is just too terrible…and fixing it.
Sounds like a self-help book, I know, and the title obviously plays on that notion, but it’s a page-tuner, honest! It’s sly that way. I started wondering if maybe this book had a secret Buddhist agenda, because it’s really about changing the way you look at the world, rather than actually changing the world that you’re looking at. So I asked Lulu (mistress of the 12 Steps to Enlightenment program, you will recall), who read it on the beach on her recent Caribbean vacation, to comment.
It’s about the struggle for inner peace and freedom, about learning to be happy focusing on inner peace and allowing yourself to try different things, not getting set in your ways, and being surprised by the effects of opening up to letting new people into your world.
I loved the ending with him in the middle of the ocean floating on the door—a metaphor for going with the flow and accepting the lessons he had learned over the last few months in his life: no need to stress over things we have no control over. It’s better to live life than hide in our own routine of what’s comfortable. No matter how healthy and careful you are, life is not full hiding from yourself.
He was so free in the end just floating and living. He had created this family of unique individuals who all had brought elements into his world that he was always so afraid of and didn’t even know why he was so afraid of.
As the books moves forward it almost seems like he chose to remember his life, childhood, marriage and relationships a certain way. Once he starts living a little more and letting go of his routine and selfish environment he starts to see things the way the really are and were.
This is lovely, sneaky book, Chcklets.