"This Book Will Save Your Life": A wake-up call to life's possibilities
By Mark Lindquist
This Book Will Save Your Life
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.
Since her debut in 1989, A.M. Homes has been among the boldest and most original voices of her generation, acclaimed for the psychological accuracy and unnerving emotional intensity of her storytelling. Her keen ability to explore how extraordinary the ordinary can be is at the heart of her touching and funny new novel, her first in six years.
This Book Will Save Your Life:
"Did you notice the hole?" Richard asks Cecelia, the housekeeper, as he is eating breakfast.
"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?"
"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."
"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."
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."
"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.