A.M. Homes is a well-respected author (The End of Alice, Music for Torching) who teaches at Columbia, and I am not, so maybe I can be forgiven for not really understanding how this book is supposed to save my life. Sure, it's a pleasant enough read. Lots of interesting things happen to Richard, a rich Los Angeles day trader suddenly awakened from his daily drudge by . . . a bunch of really dramatic events! Like sharp, mysterious pain resembling a heart attack, even though he is extremely physically fit! A sinkhole in his yard that threatens to cause the collapse of his ultramodern L.A. home! Doughnuts! Actually, the doughnut part of the novel is really lovely. After his heart scare yields only a "be careful" at the hospital, Richard uncharacteristically stops at a doughnut shop. (This being L.A., his normal breakfast consists of handmade, "kiln-dried" cereal, which, like all his meals, is prepared and delivered by a nutritionist.) There, Richard meets Anhil, the doughnut shop owner, who communicates with all the usual charm and hilarity, replete with malapropisms, you might expect from a comical supporting character from an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Nevertheless, Anhil inspires transcendence when he's describing doughnuts, his joy at making doughnuts, anything to do with doughnuts. So, you see, the fresh doughnuts are a symbol of Richard's new life, which leads to a series of variant, sensual food experiences to continue the metaphor. He eats new food or consumes his old food in new ways or with new people (including an anxiety-stricken escaped housewife, a couple of odd film-industry neighbors, and his son). Previously known for plunging her characters from seemingly normal, ordered lives into pathology, Homes here adapts a more gently bizarre L.A. tone for Richard's descent. (All this chaos will somehow cleanse and improve him.) Admittedly, the novel's events would probably seem more twisted if I didn't spend so much down time watching the E! Channel. Homes' style is refreshingly plain, equal parts sweet and funny, with just a touch of clarifying whimsy. Her title is obviously meant ironically, lightly mocking those who shop the self-help aisle at Barnes & Noble. So even if this novel, like Richard, isn't very substantial, you might think of it fondly a couple of weeks after reading it—like a nice person you met at a party (like Richard, in fact) but have no desire to see again.
She appears at Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600, www.elliottbaybook.com. Free. 8 p.m. Mon., May 1.