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This Book Will Save Your Life: A Novel


This Book Will Save Your Life: A Novel Cover




"Did you notice the hole?" Richard asks Cecelia, the housekeeper, as he is eating breakfast.

"What hole?"

"Look out the window, there's a big dent like the kind of place a UFO might have landed if you believe in that kind of thing."

"The only things I believe in are God and a clean house. Are you going to put your headphones on or do I have to talk to you all day." Cecelia takes her can of Endust to the window and looks out. "Not only is there a hole," Cecelia says. "There's a horse in the hole."

He stops eating and goes to the glass.

There is a horse in the center of the hole, eating grass. Again, he thinks of the signs on the telephone poles at the bottom of the hill. "UFO? You Are Not Alone."

"Don't just stare at it," Cecelia says.

Richard goes outside, stands with his feet on the edge of the hole?it is definitely deeper than it was two hours ago. The horse looks up.

"Are you stuck?" Richard asks the horse. "Can you climb out? Come out, while it's not so deep."

The horse doesn't move. Richard goes back into the house "He doesn't want to come out," Richard says to Cecelia.

"A horse in a hole is like a salt shaker in a coffee cup," Cecelia says. "It makes no sense."

"The horse got into the hole, he must know how to get out of the hole." Richard goes to the window. Now there's

a coyote standing at the edge of the hole, or at least he thinks it's a coyote. It's standing at the edge of the hole menacing the horse, and the horse is frightened.

Richard looks around for Cecelia?she's vacuuming in the living room. He picks up his noise-canceling headphones, takes two metal pot lids from the kitchen and goes back outside, banging the lids together like cymbals, yelling, "Scram. Go away and be gone." The coyote runs.

The horse sighs, flares his lips, blinks at Richard.

"Are you trapped? Can't get yourself out? I'm going to look in the garage and see if there's anything we can use. Be right back."

There's a young girl walking down the street, her mouth open. She is in the middle of the street calling out something?he hears only a muffled version. He takes off his headphones.

"Lucky, Lucky?" She is shouting, "Lucky."

"Are you looking for your dog?"

"My horse."

"I've got him."

"I'm not going in your house."

"He's just over the edge, in a sinkhole."

The horse recognizes the girl, his tale swishes.

"I was just going into the garage to look for something."

"I'm not going into your garage," the girl says, climbing down the hill.

In the garage there's a garden hose, a lounge chair, a tall wooden door, a bag of sand and an old pair of skis. He imagines putting the horse on skis and pulling it up the hill with a rope, like an old-fashioned toy horse on wheels, but he doesn't really think that'll work. He carries the door to the hole, and with the girl's help, they position it.

"A ramp," he says.

A school bus drives by. "That was my ride," she says.

"How old are you?" he asks.

"None of your business," she says.

The girl tries to guide the horse up the door and out of the hole. He won't go. She runs up and down the wooden door trying to show him that the ramp is safe. The horse is suspicious?he wants to come out, he starts to come out, but something keeps him in the hole. And he's catching on to the fact that he's trapped and is looking at the girl and at Richard, wanting someone to explain it in horse terms.

"Does your horse have a trainer we could call?"

"Maybe we should call 911."

"They're not always helpful. This is a weird idea, but I think we should ask the guy at the house up the hill."

"The movie star?" the girl says. "You can't just go and ring his bell."

"Why not?"

"Like he's going to answer. Fine, you go, I'm not allowed into anyone's house."

Richard walks up the hill. He rings the buzzer on the gate. There's a long pause.


"Hi, it's your neighbor, we've never met, but there's a horse out here stuck in a sinkhole. He got himself in, but can't get out. I was wondering if you could help us."

"Hang on."

The automatic gate peels back, the front door opens, and there he is in jeans and a white T-shirt, a little rumpled, a little worn?startlingly sexy. Richard is thrown off guard. The movie star is pulling on cowboy boots with no socks. As he bends his T-shirt rides up, showing off muscle, skin, a small tattoo. Everything about him is better than average.

"Sorry to bother you," Richard says. "But the horse is in the hole, the little girl is about to cry, and well, are you busy?"

"Just doing some reading, let's go." Together they walk down the hill. By now the sun is entirely up, it's a beautiful day. The sky is blue and clear, the air crisp. It is as though the movie star has changed the lighting, changed the mood.

The girl is still trying to get the horse to walk up the plank.

"No luck?" the movie star asks.

"Do you think you can get him out?" the girl asks tearfully.

"Sure," he says. "That's what I do. What's your horse's name?"


"Do you know the name of Lucky's doctor? We need to have him give Lucky some medicine to keep him calm. We're going to get him out, but it's going to take a little work."

The movie star pulls a cellphone out of his back pocket and hands it to the girl.

"I have my own," she says, taking an even smaller one out of her pocket.

"While you're at it," Richard says, "call your school and your mother and tell them where you are."

While the girl is on the phone, the movie star talks to Richard. "I don't trust this hole. We need a helicopter to lift the horse out of the hole. How does that sound?"

"Good. Do you have a helicopter?"

"I do, but I don't have a harness to pick up the horse. Give me a half hour and make sure the vet shows up." The movie star runs up the street, head and chest held high. Minutes later he zooms by on his motorcycle.

"Next time you see me, I'll be up there," he says, pointing up. He throws Richard a walkie-talkie. "We're on channel 12."

"Roger," Richard says, pushing the button and speaking into the walkie-talkie.

"We need a few things, old socks?to use as earplugs for the horse?and something to use as a blindfold," the movie star says over his head-set. "Can you get those?"

"Roger," Richard says, walking back toward the house.

"My assistant is working on the harness. It's not an easy item. But don't worry, my team is on it, and they work magic."

Richard goes inside, raids his sock drawer for what he thinks look like decent horse earplugs, goes into the bathroom, takes the belt from his bathrobe and hurries out, walkie-talkie in hand.

A police car on a routine patrol stops in front of the house. "Why didn't you call us? We like to know what's going on. What is going on?"

People driving by lean out of their car windows. "Is it a movie shoot?"

"No, a horse in a sinkhole."


"My mom is coming," the girl says. "She called the vet. They should all be here soon."

News leaks. Before the movie star is back, a television truck pulls up. Richard isn't sure if this is something that the movie star's assistant also arranged, or if when the cops radioed that there was a horse in a hole, someone picked up the information. The street is filling with people.

"There's a law against gatherings of more than 30 people without a permit," the cop tells Richard. "Some of them have to go home, there's no permit in place. I'm counting heads?duck, duck goose."

"I didn't invite them," Richard says. "I'm not responsible for people spontaneously gathering."

The vet arrives and the cops won't let him through.

"Veteran or not, you can't come in."

"I'm the horse doctor," he says, pushing through.

"Why don't you actually do something," the little girl says to the cops.

The horse is spooked. He can't see over the hill, but there's a lot of noise. The vet listens to Lucky with a stethoscope. "He's fine, worried that's all. Now, what's the proposal?"

"The helicopter is going to come and pick him up with a special sling. Have you ever used one?"

"I've only seen it on TV."

"I think they're borrowing it from a movie studio."

Richard hands the vet the socks and terry cloth belt.

"What are these?"

"Earplugs and a blindfold."

"How're you doing down there?" The walkie-talkie squawks.

"Getting quite a crowd? And you?"

"We're just about to come over the ridge. Is the vet there?"


"Can he give the horse a sedative and put the earplugs in? Also, have the police clear the road above the hill. Once we pick the horse up, we need to put him down somewhere."


Just as the helicopter comes over the edge of the hill, the vet stuffs the socks in Lucky's ears and gives him a shot. Lucky doesn't like any of it, including the sound of the helicopter. He does a lot of stomping. "It's going to take a few minutes to kick in," the vet says.

"Pull back, pull back, the horse isn't ready yet."

Richard isn't ready either; he's nervous, excited, almost overwhelmed, it's too much stimulation?maybe the vet should give him a little shot as well.

The chopper comes in again a few minutes later?they lower the harness. The girl is the only one that Lucky will let in close enough.

"OK, honey, I'm going to talk you through it." The movie star has the stunt coordinator from Paramount with him in the chopper.

"I'm not your honey," the girl says to the stuntman.

The horse is settling down, looking glassy-eyed, stoned. The harness is a huge canvas sling, like a straightjacket. As soon as it's around the horse and the cable is attached, the girl scrambles out of the hole. On the top of the hill the television cameras are rolling?there's a line of TV trucks, satellite dishes up, antennas extended. The movie star manages to look directly at the cameras and give a big wave, just before the signal goes out to lift the horse.

It happens quickly; the harness pulls taut, the horse's feet are off the ground and he's rising out of the hole. He's free and he's flying. Everyone cheers. Richard bursts into tears. Lucky is flying. The sight of a horse hovering overhead, a horse in a sling, tethered to a helicopter, is something you'd never imagine.

"This is the dicey part," the stunt director says over the walkie-talkie. "We have to land him gently. The second the horse has all four legs on the ground he's going to want to bolt. You have to get the cable off so he doesn't drag us. You have to get the cable."

Richard talks Lucky down, 50 feet, 15, 10, 7, 3, 2?the vet has a hand on him. Lucky's feet are on the ground, the vet detaches the cable, the harness goes slack.

"Go, go, go," Richard shouts into the walkie-talkie, and the chopper pulls back. The movie star makes a salutary dip in the chopper and flies over the hill.

"Over and out," he calls.

The harness falls to the ground like an enormous canvas dropcloth. Lucky shakes his head, trying to get the earplug socks out.

The girl and the vet lead Lucky up the hill toward home?feet stomping as if in protest of the indignity of it all.

The camera crews lower their antennas and the crowd begins to disperse.

"Is everything all right?" the girl's mother asks, arriving after the fact. "I was in the Valley. The traffic was horrible."

"Fine," Richard says, wiping his eyes. "Everything is fine."

Richard goes into the house. Cecelia is in the kitchen wearing his headphones, making lunch.

"Did you see it?"

"What?" She takes the headphones off. "I can't hear you."

"You missed the whole thing?"

"Missed what?" He turns on the TV. They're showing Lucky being lifted into the air with the red Breaking News headline just beneath.

"Is that right?" Cecelia says, putting the headphones back on. "I love these." She yells in the way that people yell when they can't hear how loud they're talking. "'m going to get a pair for myself. Can't hear anything."

An hour later there's a knock on the door. "That was really great," the movie star says, standing in the doorway. "Thanks for thinking of me."

"Well, I just thought the part might appeal to you. It seemed like your kind of role."

"Maybe I'll even get a nomination."

"It wasn't really a movie," Richard says, worried that the guy doesn't know the difference.

"I was thinking of good citizenship. I always used to win that one. By the way, I didn't get your name."

"Novak, Richard Novak," he says, extending his hand.

"Pleasure to meet you. And really, thanks for ringing my bell. It doesn't happen every day."

"It's been all over the TV," Richard says, leading him in, pointing to the screen. "You looked pretty good in that helicopter."

The movie star laughs. "I'll tell you a secret," he says. "But you have to swear not to tell anyone."

Richard nods.

"I don't own a TV."

Richard is standing at the glass, looking out. The hole is deeper still. Between the footprints, the crime scene tape and the heavy traffic, the hill is a disaster. He looks out the window at the distant palm trees like the spines of an ancient fan. Just below are yellow and orange wildflowers, the purple ice plants, the scruffy brown and green scrub, chaparral, and mint and flowers he can't name. The day is bright, the sky is blue. The bougainvillea is in bloom.

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

bung, February 28, 2008 (view all comments by bung)
The title is what caught my eye. I wondered what on earth a work of fiction could be about with a title such as this. I then sat down and read a little of the book and was impressed. I have never heard of A.M. Homes until now.
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wordwing, October 15, 2006 (view all comments by wordwing)
It might not save your life, but it might loosen you up and let you connect with your own capacity for joy and involvement in the human circus. I can't wait to see what aspect of our crazy world she tackles next.
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Product Details

A Novel
Homes, A. M.
Viking Adult
Middle aged men
Stories (single author)
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
April 20, 2006
Grade Level:
from 12
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Humor » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

This Book Will Save Your Life: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
Product details 496 pages Viking Books - English 9780670034932 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

A. M. Homes never fails to deliver an emotionally accurate tale, and here she manages to make it hilarious as well. She has the uncanny ability to lift the curtain and show the absurdities and minutia of life.  

Richard Novak's sterile and quiet life is shattered when he ends up in the emergency room one night with an apparent heart attack. Richard is a slightly befuddled man, and he is stuck in an emotional stasis from which he cannot escape. What follows is a tale that only Homes could tell: Richard seems to "collect" people and order their lives while his unravels. (Perhaps his own life must first fall apart in order to start over?) He takes on a woman he meets in a grocery store, as well as a bakery owner, a movie star, a reclusive writer, his own estranged son, and myriad other characters, with a dog to boot.  

This sweet, engaging tale shows the wonder that can happen when you finally open yourself up to others and to the world.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The journey from isolation to connection in a semiapocalyptic Los Angeles is the subject of this blithely redemptive new novel by Homes (Things You Should Know). Richard Novak is a day-trader wealthy enough to employ a housecleaner, nutritionist, decorator and personal trainer, but after he's taken to the hospital with a panic attack he realizes he has no one to call. Determined to change his life, but also stalked by strange circumstances (e.g., a sinkhole opens in his lawn), Richard makes extravagant gestures of goodwill toward various acquaintances, relatives and strangers. By the time his misguided altruistic adventures have become fodder for late-night TV jokes, Ben, the son he abandoned years ago in a divorce, arrives in town. Richard's tenuous and fraught reconnection with Ben is at the heart of his reclamation, but when it is complete the city of L.A. itself collapses, à la Mike Davis's City of Quartz. Homes's stale cultural critique feels deliberate. She gradually undoes the ordered precision of Richard's Bobo paradise, and literally leaves him floating serenely on his kitchen tabletop in an 'it's all good' sort of daze. But the cool distance she keeps from Richard's struggle, and the banal terms in which she articulates it, leave one with a much darker sense of the possibilities for being saved." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "[A] whirling dervish of black humor and script-ready serendipity....Homes just barely keeps her novel from devolving into a full-scale natural disaster (yes, these figure in, as well). Homes' story embodies much of what she skewers....With This Book Will Save Your Life, A.M. Homes has crafted a novel akin to a director's-cut DVD: some sharp and shapely editing could make a dramatic difference in quality." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
"Review" by , "I think this brave story of a lost man's reconnection with the world could become a generational touchstone, like Catch-22, The Monkey Wrench Gang, or The Catcher in the Rye. There's a lot of uplift here, but Homes' deadpan delivery keeps it from feeling greeting-card phony."
"Review" by , "Homes is always riveting, but this juggernaut hits a higher mark with its aerodynamic prose, finely calibrated humor, and spiky characters....[A] novel of cinematic pizzazz that revitalizes our understanding of love and goodness."
"Review" by , "[A] work of guarded but very real optimism and, ultimately, of redemption....An extremely likable book."
"Review" by , "[A]n engaging and timely tale told with a balanced mix of dark humor and sympathy for individuals enduring the foibles of everyday living."
"Review" by , "Homes is a top-drawer writer..."
"Review" by , "[H]ilarious....Homes is a first-rate satirist."
"Review" by , "A.M. Homes's This Book Will Save Your Life can't even generate enough energy to save itself."
"Review" by , "[I]f This Book Will Save Your Life doesn't actually save your life, it might inspire you to go out there and start living it. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much the same thing."
"Review" by , "[Homes's] new novel is at best a wan form of entertainment punctuated by fleeting moments of poignancy."
"Review" by , "This Book Will Save Your Life is a disappointment....[I]t might be said that avoiding this book will save your life."
"Synopsis" by , From the author of Music for Torching — an uplifting and apocalyptic tale set in Los Angeles about one man's efforts to bring himself back to life.
"Synopsis" by ,
“A big American story with big American themes” (Elle) from the author of the New York Times–bestselling memoir The Mistresss Daughter

In this vivid, transfixing new novel, A. M. Homes presents a darkly comic look at twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation. Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his more successful younger brother, George, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. When Georges murderous temper results in a shocking act of violence, both men are hurled into entirely new lives. May We Be Forgiven digs deeply into the near biblical intensity of fraternal relationships, our need to make sense of things, and our craving for connection. It is an unnerving tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together.

"Synopsis" by ,
A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation

Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his younger brother, George, a taller, smarter, and more successful high-flying TV executive, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. But Harry, a historian and Nixon scholar, also knows George has a murderous temper, and when George loses control the result is an act of violence so shocking that both brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they both must seek absolution.

Harry finds himself suddenly playing parent to his brother’s two adolescent children, tumbling down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.

May We Be Forgiven is an unnerving, funny tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together. 

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