Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Music for Torching

Music for Torching by A.M. Homes
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Jan 22, 08

bookshelves: finished, cle-pub-lib
Read in December, 2003

A. M. Homes, Music for Torching (Morrow, 1999)

To play devil's advocate, it would be hard for any author to reproduce the sheer unadulterated evil that reverberates through A. M. Homes' wonderful novel The End of Alice. I shouldn't expect it of anyone. Yet my second trip into the delightfully twisted world of Ms. Homes came with just such expectations. She subverted them by giving birth to something so completely unlike The End of Alice that halfway through this, I'd tossed the comparisons to the wind and was just having fun hanging on for the ride.

Paul and Elaine are your typical, everyday American middle-class suburban couple. Or so we think. Then, on impulse, they set fire to their house as part of a new beginning to their lives. From there, we get to meet the rest of the neighborhood and see their reactions to the supposed tragedy. The result is a savagely funny skewering of American suburban life that's too disgusting not to be accurate.

Perhaps the best way to describe this novel is "Peyton Place on crack." Everyone's sleeping with everyone else, the Stepford wives' porcelain skin is cracking under the stress, everyone's using entirely too many drugs, Paul's incompetence at work is richly rewarded, you get the idea. Everything is going along rollickingly, and we're laughing along, guilty and embarrassed that we find this stuff funny, and all in all it looked like your typical three-star novel; readable, predictable, but good enough to recommend. Then comes the last few pages, where Homes throws a curveball that fits in with the story in every way possible, but turns the tragicomedy on its head. The sucker punch is so skillful that it raises estimation for the entire book.

Sick, twisted, and not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach, but those who found themselves in love with The End of Alice or The Safety of Objects (where Paul and Elaine first show up; that story is referred to here a number of times) are going to find much to adore in Music for Torching. ****
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