The hero of Homes’s latest novel (after Music for Torching, 1999)—a work of guarded but very real optimism and, ultimately, of redemption—is Richard Novak, a California-style Scrooge.
Richard is a friendless, divorced Los Angeles investor who has so single-mindedly worked to create extravagant wealth that he has become estranged from mankind. For Richard, the wake-up call is not a minatory ghost but a pain that bends him double and sends him to the ER, where he realizes there is no one he can call who would really care. The novel charts Richard's gradual reawakening to the needs of others and the pleasure of their company. With the innocence of a newborn, he befriends the Middle Eastern owner of a donut shop; a woman weeping in the produce aisle of a supermarket (whom he treats to a week of spa treatments); and his next-door neighbor. Having warmed up to strangers, Richard struggles to re-establish contact first with his younger brother, a scientist living in Boston, and then with his sharp-tongued ex-wife and his teenaged son. Narratives about the very wealthy often have a glow of limitless possibility that verges on enchantment, and here, when Richard's house is menaced by an encroaching sinkhole, he lifts his de Kooning off the wall and rents an all-white house in Malibu. Not only are the cast-iron frying pans white-enameled, the sexual harness mounted in the guestroom ceiling is all white, too. That close to L.A., such loony details are plausible enough, but Homes occasionally skitters into realms so odd that the hypnotic spell of her narrative is broken. Could anyone believe that firefighters, battling the blaze that destroys the Malibu rental, had seen “the infamous mystery cat—a large animal some believe maybe be the sole surviving saber-toothed cat” among the flames? Deeper satisfaction derives from her characters’ sudden insights, as when Richard imagines that if he calls out, his brother will come to comfort him. There is a whole lifetime of change in that simple moment of understanding that indicates how far Richard has traveled toward redemption.
An extremely likable book.