July 16, 2001 12:00 PM

by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby is under a lot of pressure. Can he be the next… Nick Hornby? Wisely he has chosen not to try. After his first novel, High Fidelity, became the standard field guide to charmingly disaffected boy-men looking for a little (but not too much) affection, he is giving infidelity a go, with a woman narrator: Katie Carr, a London mom and doctor married to a sneering columnist who is angry both professionally and as a hobby. She tumbles into a love-free affair and considers divorce.

But then boy meets guru. Carr’s husband, David, made saintly by a gifted New Age faith healer called DJ GoodNews, invites the swami to move in—and starts giving away possessions and inviting the homeless to stay. Imagine a reworking of Pay It Forward, only this time it’s intentionally funny: What do right-thinking, left-leaning folks like Katie do when the poor are no longer a topic to be frowned about over a nice Chardonnay but are stealing the milk money? This is a surprising novel of ideas that balances spiritual, political and familial questions, and it’s an exciting departure for a quietly excellent writer. (Riverhead, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Good to the last page

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