Tim Farrington, . . Harper San Francisco, $22.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-06-251785-2

An independent, "unremarkable" single mother of one and an introverted ex-monk are the unlikely couple sharing the spotlight in this delightful, Anne Tyler-ish third novel from the author of 1998's well-received Blues for Hannah. Rebecca, a 38-year-old divorced San Francisco graphic artist, already has plenty on her plate—a six-year-old daughter, Mary Martha, and a pot-smoking professional surfer ex-husband, Rory—when she rents her downstairs apartment to Michael Christopher, a monk who has just abandoned monastery life after 20 years. She's sure she's not on the market for romance, but when Michael weeds her backyard, manages to befriend no-nonsense Mary Martha and joins Rebecca for intimate cigarette breaks ("little suicides") on the back steps, she finds herself wavering. Much trepidation predictably gives way to heated romance, though Michael wrestles with his crisis of faith via letters back and forth to the abbey brothers, and Rebecca, between bouts of bailing Rory out of jail, questions whether a romantic relationship with a man like Michael would be a true "fall from grace" for them both. Then Rebecca's mother has a stroke, and Rebecca and Michael are forced to make some rushed but pragmatic decisions. Fluent prose, seamless dialogue and a lovingly rendered Bay Area setting lift this novel above the pack. Farrington touches on many of the themes customary to the genre: forbidden fantasies, passionate first kisses, hovering family members and the tribulations of inconceivable relationships—and all are mastered with ease and grace. The writer may have adopted a secondhand premise, but he delivers a charmingly written, gratifyingly hopeful tale. Agent, Linda Chester, Linda Chester and Associates. (May)

Forecast:West Coast readers in particular will appreciate the quirky, spiritually inflected sweetness of Farrington's fiction. Farrington has been quietly building up a solid body of work, à la Stephen McCauley, and The Monk Downstairs should bump his reputation and sales up a healthy notch.