By Troy Patterson
Updated March 01, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

The bad title (Philosophy Made Simple) may give you the idea that this book tarts up a survey course for freshmen as sophomoric fiction. There are some close calls, but nothing so thoroughly dreary is on offer. Rudy Harrington, a widower and father of three grown daughters, trades in an overly familiar life of selling avocados in Chicago for a fresh one of growing them in Texas. Wondering about the meaning of it all and the whereabouts of his wife?s soul, he starts making time with the titular philosophy text, which does occasion some wince-making moments. ?Señor Aristotle was right about these glimpses of higher reality,? says Rudy?s grove manager. ?You have to be careful.? Too true. Though its thoughts on Hume, Kant, and company can be a drag, the novel is best when feeling its way around a father?s love and a husband?s loss.