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That Sinking Feeling

How to mend a boring life



The thing about a sinkhole is that until it actually sinks, everything looks just fine up on the surface. But below there are stone bubbles of emptiness forming, proliferating, expanding toward one another. It can go on like that for many years, the surface seeming stable and secure to distracted eyes. And then something, the slightest random something begins a cascade of tiny implosions as the earth falls away from everything that had relied upon it.

Richard Novak first notices the sinkhole outside his expensive Los Angeles home at the same moment he feels a full-body agony like the pain of fire after frostbite. His life was, until then, perfectly under control, thoroughly antiseptic. He was on his treadmill, trading stocks, watching his neighbor swim laps, wearing his Bose noise-canceling headphones just like every other morning. He hadn't left his house in nearly a month. His human contact, such as it was, was limited to his housekeeper, his personal trainer and his nutritionist. He barely knew his son, barely spoke to his ex-wife, had never met his neighbors.

And then comes the pain. He fears this is "IT," the end of his life, but instead it turns out to be a resurrection. "Is it normal to notice the enormity of everything and just go blank?" he asks his doctor. He doesn't know if he's still hurting, unable tell the difference between agony and its absence. "It's delicate -- this process of waking up," his doctor tells him. Pain means you're feeling again, that the time of ice is ending.

Soon Richard is off on a series of wild, made-for-Hollywood adventures: rescuing a horse from the sinkhole, rescuing a crying woman from her thankless family, rescuing a hostage from a car trunk in a daring car chase scene, rescuing his son, rescuing himself.

The brilliance of Homes' novel is that she takes a series of, collectively, implausibly sensational events and writes about them with such bleak, declarative understatement that they all seem to make perfect sense. There is such a vacuum within Richard after his isolated years that, of course, it seems all of this must rush in once the pain opens a hole into the empty earth.

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