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by Richard Murphy

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-399-15507-9
Publisher: Putnam

Hollywood screenwriter Murphy taps into his own lengthy history in the home-repair business to craft a debut novel about the uneven relationships between love and shelter.

Murphy’s fictional doppelgänger Henry Sullivan, a blue-collar contractor, is having a hell of a summer. After 15 years working a hammer, this home-repair whiz has learned a few tricks, including maintaining a firm grip on his common sense while clients are losing their minds. “Nothing epitomizes the American dream like a house,” he says. “It is the reason renovation has become the most expensive drug on the market, and the reason some people can’t stop doing it once they start.” Henry breaks his own rules by sleeping with Sally Stein, a charismatic purse designer who finds him to be a perfect accessory. At the same time, he can’t stop thinking about new client Rebecca, the wife of repellent real-estate guru Derrick Paulson, who buddies up to Henry to help him salvage his doomed marriage. As if the self-possessed Sullivan doesn’t have enough trouble with his love triangle, he’s also coping with retaliatory strikes by a vengeful oncologist who believes Henry slept with his wife; good-humored teasing by charming Mexican crew members Hector and Miguel; and his own unresolved feelings about a long-ruined relationship with a sexy Web designer named Gia. Murphy has a good feeling for dialogue, which gives the book’s uncomfortable relationships a strong sense of realism, despite the eccentric and sometimes outright crazy behavior of Henry’s love interests, and he ably captures the absurd humor that often springs from extreme wealth. But where the novel’s real charms lie is in Sullivan’s insightful observations of the thorny relationship between humans and their domiciles.

Zen and the art of home repair: Home-improvement addicts, architectural hobbyists and amateur couples counselors should get plenty of mileage here.