September 11, 2000 12:00 PM

by Ben Sherwood

“This is the story of the greatest love, ever,” declares J.J. Smith, the jaded hero of this offbeat novel. As a judge for a Guinness-esque book of records, Smith should know. He’s seen it all, though nothing to compare with the tale of Wally Chubb, a Nebraska man who decides to prove his love for a local woman by grinding up and devouring a crashed 747 piece by piece. On location to record this surreal drama, Smith, a proud New Yorker obsessed with stats, finds himself disarmed by the simple pleasures of small-town life—and falling deeply in love with the object of Wally’s obsessive affections.

Though set in the present, characters in 747 often behave with a geewhiz earnestness straight out of Leave It to Beaver. (In Sherwood’s world, children hop around on pogo sticks, desperate to make it into Smith’s book; in the real world, wouldn’t they rather set high scores on their Game Boys?) Still, Sherwood, a network news producer, renders his tale in a disarmingly folksy style. He even manages to add a bit of suspense to the story: Will the publicity Smith brings corrode the town’s innocence? In the end, the book’s charm and inherent sweetness win the day. (Bantam, $19.95)

Bottom Line: Goes down easy

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