The latest novel from Carolyn See (”Making History”) explores the mysterious ways in which art, love, and identity are forged, but thanks to her funny, appealing title character, it is foremost a sparkling entertainment. In the first chapter — a Guggenheim grant application dated 2027 — Bob Hampton is described as ”the preeminent international artist of the new century.” But you’d never foresee such an auspicious future from reading Bob’s memoir from the summer of 1996, which constitutes the rest of See’s narrative. At 28, this ad exec-turned-painter yearns to change the world with his art, yet barely feels inspired to pick up a paintbrush. He decides to become a handyman, distributing his flier — ”Whatever’s wrong I can fix it” — everywhere from Hollywood Hills mansions to crumbling inner-city bungalows.
And does L.A. ever need fixing: Beyond paint-peeling houses and filthy kitchens, it’s Bob’s muddled clients — the neglected wife of a sports agent, a man whose uninsured lover is dying of AIDS, an abandoned young mother — who could use the most work. Part of the fun here is watching Bob worry that he’s becoming a gigolo. But what’s most satisfying is the way See conveys Bob’s compassion. As he copes with the messes people make of their lives, he gleans unexpected insights into the practical value of beauty (especially its power to ”get rid of suffering”). Such discoveries inspire Bob to focus his artistic vision and fix his own life, making See’s optimistic L.A. story irresistible.