A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation
Harold Silver has spent a lifetime watching his younger brother, George, a taller, smarter, and more successful high-flying TV executive, acquire a covetable wife, two kids, and a beautiful home in the suburbs of New York City. But Harry, a historian and Nixon scholar, also knows George has a murderous temper, and when George loses control the result is an act of violence so shocking that both brothers are hurled into entirely new lives in which they both must seek absolution.
Harry finds himself suddenly playing parent to his brother’s two adolescent children, tumbling down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.
May We Be Forgiven is an unnerving, funny tale of unexpected intimacies and of how one deeply fractured family might begin to put itself back together.
A.M. Homes is the author of the novels, The Unfolding, May We Be Forgiven, which won the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction, This Book Will Save Your Life, Music For Torching, The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, and Jack, as well as the short-story collections, Things You Should Know and The Safety of Objects, the travel memoir, Los Angeles: People, Places and The Castle on the Hill, and the artist's book Appendix A: An Elaboration on the Novel the End of Alice.
In April of 2007 Viking published her long awaited memoir, The Mistress's Daughter, the story of the author being "found" by her biological family, and a literary exploration and investigation of identity, adoption and genealogical ties that bind.
Her work has been translated into eighteen languages and appears frequently in Art Forum, Harpers, Granta, McSweeney's, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Zoetrope. She is a Contributing Editor to Vanity Fair, Bomb and Blind Spot.
She has been the recipient of numerous awards including Fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, NYFA, and The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at The New York Public Library, along with the Benjamin Franklin Award, and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.
In addition she has been active on the Boards of Directors of Yaddo, The Fine Arts Work Center In Provincetown, The Writers Room, and PEN-where she chairs both the membership committee and the Writers Fund. Additionally she serves on the Presidents Council for Poets and Writers.
A.M. Homes was a writer/producer of the hit television show The L Word in 2004-2005 and wrote the adaptation of her first novel JACK, for Showtime. The film aired in 2004 and won an Emmy Award for Stockard Channing. Director Rose Troche's film adaptation of The Safety of Objects was released in 2003, and Troche is currently developing In A Country of Mothers as well. Music For Torching is in development with director Steven Shainberg with a script by Buck Henry, and This Book Will Save Your Life is in Development with Stone Village Pictures.
Born in Washington D.C., she now lives in New York City.
- You know you were making all these little beeping chortly noises when you were reading this one but then you went quiet and just sort of grunted and ground your teeth.
- I do not do that!
- Well, what went wrong?
- Hmmm (grinds teeth, grunts).
- Well did you like it?
- That’s too hard to answer.
- Well did you like some of it?
- The first 300 pages were brilliant blast of pure diamond black comedy.
- And then?
- I think it jumped the shark.
- Jumped the what?
- The shark. It’s an expression.
- Meaning that in striving for a sudden left-turn into outrageous satire it found itself being so silly it made you have to re-evaluate all the stuff you’d read up to that point which you’d been thinking was great.
- Are you referring to George in the privatised prison with the Israeli agent?
- Yes – I thought you hadn’t read this?
- I haven’t , that was just a good guess.
- So then I think she clambered back over the shark and got back on track –
- That’s a horribly clunky metaphor you know –
- But then came something which was nearly as bad.
- And that was?
- Well clearly, AM Homes had gone on holiday to South Africa and had a pretty good time, and she just typed up her “what I did on my holidays” essay and shoved it straight into her novel, 40 pages of it! It was so blatant, she just sprinkled a few of her characters’ names in there to pretend it was them doing it. It was like in The Privileges which starts off as another great little novel but then wham, you get a 40 page essay about the Outsider Art market shoved right in the middle. Aren’t these things supposed to be done with a certain amount of subtlety? I mean, look at Lolita – that road trip, all those crummy motels, you can tell a lot of Nabokov's own American travelling went into that section, but it's an essential part of Lolita, it's not bolted on. This South African holiday is in here because she went there and thought it would make a cool thing for her characters to do. It's a bit crass.
- You don't know that. Anyway, so what if you're right? You can do what you want in a novel these days, look at Bartleby & Co.
- That’s not a novel, it’s an essay everyone politely pretends is a novel.
- And you get all these infodumps in Jonathan Franzen.
- I call him Jonathan Frankenzen.
- It’s still not funny and what does that even mean?
- But even then that’s not the problem. It's not even the problem that the eleven year old girl and 12 year old boy talk like 16 year olds.
- Okay, what is the problem?
- well, the story begins with a 20 page helterskelter of horror and then takes the next 440 pages to reassemble the ingredients into such an apotheosis of family values, inclusiveness and loving-kindness that might have made even Walt Disney throw up into his lucky bag. By the last page I would not have been surprised if Bambi and Thumper appeared to serenade the family's Thanksgiving dinner with Memories are Made of This. May We Be Forgiven is a story about a family which is smashed to bits by the violence of the father and reassembled in a new way by the father’s brother who turns out to be some kind of genius of human relationships. And also a babe magnet, which strained credulity, since he's a middle-aged history prof.
- maybe he looks like George Clooney
- women fall for him and require immediate sex from him every fifty pages or so
- Maybe that’s an accurate picture of suburban American life if you're a hot history professor
- I mean, when one lady gets gently rebuffed, she immediately suggests a threeway with the prof and his girlfriend as a consolation prize for her! Is that normal? Is that what people do? I don't think so! Of course, I have lived quite a sheltered life. But anyway, these characters, the ones who are left alive after the first 20 pages – they're so cute. Ech! I'm sorry, this makes me sound terrible
- No more than usual
- but all these well-meaning stereotypes, look at them – it's as if Todd Solenz directed the first half of this novel then Alan Alda got him fired and took over –
- Right, so you liked the miserable bit but you didn't like the part where everyone gets better and cheers up. I get it -
- the feisty old Chinese couple, the goofy demented but cute old Jewish couple, the cute latino boy, the cute dog, the cute cat who has iddy cutey kittens
- You know, it must be hard to be slaving away on a novel for three or four years and then some jackass on the internet gets all mealymouthed and sniffy about it
- Comparatively speaking
- Oh it's okay, no chance of hurting A M Homes' feelings. I don’t think these novelists notice us, we can say what we like. It would be like hammerhead sharks noticing the plankton.
- back to sharks now... why hammerhead?
- I love hammerhead sharks.
- I bet hammerhead sharks eat plankton
- Yeah but they don't read what the planckton says about them on Goodreads before they do
- Well, what if a – er – starfish read it and told them about it?
I do not know how to rate this book. The first part was amazing whereas the second half almost ruined everything. I really want to give this book a higher rating as I had such high hopes when I started reading it.
The first part was a brilliant, fast paced, crazy dark comedy. The story is about the brutal fall of a family. There is our hero who constantly lives in the shadow of his more successful brother who has a secret. He has a murderous temper and when it is let lose everything goes downhill for the family. Murder, Illicit sex, people gone wild, internet sex, divorce etc. I loved the surreal dialogue which made me giggle many times.
It is a story about falling abruptly and then fighting to find the inner-self and the meaning of life. I liked all about the falling but I found the redeeming part pretty flawed and not so interesting as the rest of the book. Everything finished too tidy and perfect. Everyone ended to be so nice.
Also, I thought it was so convenient that the hero seemed to always gain good amounts of cash in order to do whatever he wanted and women were all over him even if he was an average, middle aged history professor. There were some parts (such as the trip to Africa) that did not make too much sense or added anything important to the story.
All in all, I would probably recommend the book because a significant part was a lot of fun to read.
much to enjoy in this flawed but often brilliant sprawl of a novel. its five hundred pages breezed by. parts were great. but two words: magical negro.
and maybe this is a tangential point (and one that speaks about the novel's structural fissures more than any latent racism), but an issue that was important for me and made me in the end disappointed in a book that i had started out rooting for: in its big messy cast, the author pointlessly takes pains to pack in the chinese-american stereotypes...
the infantilized couple who run the local take-out restaurant and speak in that constructed, cute accent (to whom the white narrator late in the book -- fairly literally -- gifts the american dream). the corporate ex-wife in oversized heels who "runs asia." the family who owns and operates the nyc deli (which, you know, if youre talking about a deli in midtown, odds are it's korean-american run, but i'm sure she didn't mean to conflate the two, right?). and their daughter, the nixon fiction “transcriber,” who was born and raised in the u.s. but nonetheless has a heavy accent (and advocates qigong in the office). at one point the narrator even impersonates a delivery guy and does a fake chinese accent himself... all of which is a relatively benign, accepted kind of racism (relatively benign until the day of that fateful global-political news headline) (try asking vincent chin about conflating east asian backgrounds) but more importantly a race obsession that seemed both flimsily constructed and pointless.
homes takes a stab at defending her chinese-american characters in this interview ("I think the China thing is interesting...") as well as this one and repeats a thought the narrator has in the book: what would have happened if nixon hadn’t visited china? a fine what-if, but she's mistaken if she thinks it somehow justifies her characterizations. however -- and this is why I think it’s more of a structural problem than a political one -- homes seems sympathetic to the chinese-american experience and also seems curious about this particular cross-cultural nexus. (she cites her stories “The Chinese Lesson” and “The Omega Point or Happy Birthday Baby” as thematic precursors.) it feels therefore more like it’s a joke gone awry or a gesture that’s failed to mean.
a book whose ambitions are in one sense so transparent (there are hammy direct addresses about the american dream) it's also strangely mindlessly picaresque. perfected scenes and locations along with spot-on, smart, and hilarious dialogues ...but unfortunately it all adds up to less than a sum of its parts.
This book is sort of like this. In case the video doesn't make it clear, it's a roller-coaster. Normally on a roller-coaster there is that sort of long build up while you creak towards the top to be dropped into the rollicking fun. In this one, right after you start what you expect to be a slow ascent, a voice says something like, "There is something wrong", and the cars quickly accelerate up the incline and into the twists and turns.
This book is like that. It starts with with maybe a handful of pages to get the reader slightly acclimated to the suburban world and it's occupants that AM Homes is going to be working with, but very very quickly the action starts and, like a good roller-coaster, once the action starts it's non-stop from there.
Because I know most people read my reviews to see how I can work in MMA fight comparisons to books, this book is what the Wanderlei Silva vs. Chris Leben fight should have been (the actual fight starts at the 9:20 point in the video, it ends about twenty seconds later, the early part of the video are the videos and stuff they show before a fight, but which work to hype up the fight to what was actually expected). Unlike that fight, this book delivered (but who would expect that the book would be pretty much a full length slug-fest?)
The pacing the book starts at would seem to be more appropriate for a short-story. It just takes off too quickly, right? It works though.
The reader, like the narrator, is thrown in to this story with no warning and no real idea of what's going on, where things are going, or what is expected of him.
The novel takes shape on the fly. All of the things that normally novelists get out of the way in the slow build up in the first fifty pages or so of a novel, Homes is piecing together while disasters and absurdities are popping up like those little heads in a whack-a-mole game.
The even more remarkable thing about the way she chooses to structure and pace the book, is that it's not even the length of one of her normal books. This isn't even just some 100,000 word, three hundred page novel, it's almost five hundred pages, moving into the 'long' novel category, and she relentlessly paces herself, and um, yeah I think she's pretty successful at keeping up the pace she set. I think she might have gassed harder in Music for Torching than she did at any point in this novel.
I'd forgotten how good AM Homes was. It's been almost a decade since I read her. And I liked her when I read her, but for some reason I've thought that her newer books looked safer, more 'literary' mainstream than her earlier ones. I had no reason to think this (I'm starting to think maybe everything I think about everything is wrong). I just never felt the urge to read anything she'd written recently though.
But, she's so good!
If you were given this book to read, with no author name, or her name there but total ignorance about her gender, I'd bet you lots of money that you'd guess incorrectly the author's gender. Quite often while I was reading this I felt like the main character could have been taken from William Gass' The Tunnel. The whole work is from the first person, and her take of this sort of male character never feels forced or fake. If anything, if you didn't know the author's gender, you might think that her treatment of some of the peripheral woman characters might be a tad male fantasy arch-typical, but almost everyone in this novel is to some extent some distortion of the suburban landscape.
Favorite thing about the book?
It might be the re-occuring spotting of Don Delilo in the Suburban locales. There's the author of Underworld at a Westchester Starbucks, there he is at the A and P, there goes Delilo again. It might have helped that the interactions the narrator has with him, are just about the same as the one I had with him. In real life is Delilo a fount of the inanely profound?
But what is the book about?
Haven't I given you enough in this review? I gave a video of a roller-coaster; I found a place where you could watch, in it's entirety pre-fight videos, the walk-outs and all of Joe Rogan's commentary, one of the most disappointing fights in UFC history, and I rambled on a bit about some other stuff, and you want to know what the book is about?
It's good. Ok. I enjoyed it a lot. But if you want some plot here it is, there are two grown brothers. One is a meek professor, the other is like a Jewish Jack Donaghy with a temper problem. The more successful goes batshit and ruins everyone's life through something he does. The bulk of the novel is the narrator (the meek professor) trying to come to terms with what was done and piece together the lives of his family while navigating the wild terrain of suburbia (he's a New Yorker, so Suburbia is a strange world for him).
If there was ever a novel in serious need of plot speed-bumps such as weather descriptions, it’s this one. You would think that in a 500 page novel the author would take her time and let things unravel slowly. No, not Homes. It was a crazy ride in a convertible with Homes behind the wheel and me sitting in the back shouting over the wind
“Homes, where are we going? Are we even going anywhere??”
And Homes would shout back
“What? I can’t hear you! We’re going too fast!”
On the first page we meet Harry Silver who seduces or is seduced by his brother’s wife, depending on how you look at it. Meanwhile, his brother, a big shot TV producer, goes through a red light and kills a family. He then goes mad, although it’s unclear actually whether killing that family was the cause of his madness or just one of its effects. He then kills his wife after having caught her with Harry. Don’t worry, this all happens on the first five pages on the novel, after which a billion other things happen, pretty much anything you can think of, short of alien abduction.
It’s funny how all these things just happen to Harry, who is really just minding his own business, trying to take care of his brother’s half-orphaned children. Yet, he seems to attract the crazy, he goes to the shop and meets a woman who invites herself over and then practically sexually assaults him. Or he meets some crazy guy in hospital who had lots of money. When the guy dies Harry finds wads of banknotes in his pockets. Now, how did that happen? Surely, Harry did not put them there himself, for Harry is a good guy, he will have you know. Things just seem to happen to him. Absurd, ridiculous things. Over the top, grotesque things.
You can’t take this novel at face value, because it’s impossible to suspend your disbelief for all those 500 pages. It’s easy to just take it as a satire full of caricatures and irony. It starts off bleakly; pages are populated by mean characters doing nasty things but then gradually everything becomes a little nicer until it’s full on rainbows and unicorns. For Harry is a good guy, and good things happen to good people. Eventually.
Or is he really a good guy? I’d like to propose a slightly different interpretation of this novel. Let’s remember Harry is the narrator here, and as all first person narrators are he is subjective. Let’s go even further, let’s say he is unreliable. After all, Harry’s great hero is Nixon, man who in his own mind was a paragon of virtue but really just created and bended the world to his liking...
That money that just magically ended up in Harry’s pockets? When I first read it, I believed he had no idea, because Harry is just such a harmless, affable guy. But then I remembered how he described that scene at the party when the accountant came up to him and said something Harry didn’t like, and then the accountant was on floor holding his jaw. Harry never tells us he hit the accountant, yet the accountant is on the floor. And if we remember how Harry describes the scene when his brother kills his wife, it looks a little dodgy as well:
"Maybe I heard that part—the dog barking. Or maybe he didn’t ring the bell and maybe the dog didn’t bark. Maybe George took the spare key from inside the fake rock in the garden by the door, and, like an intruder, he came silently into his own house. Maybe he came upstairs thinking he’d crawl into his bed, but his spot was taken. I don’t know how long he stood there. I don’t know how long he waited before he lifted the lamp from her side of the bed and smashed it onto her head. That’s when I woke up. […]I stand facing him, wearing his pajamas. We are the same, like mimes, we have the same gestures, the same faces, the family chin, my father’s brow, the same mismatched selves."
Often Harry reminds us that his brother George was the bully, and he, Harry, was one of his victims. Yet, there are stories that his relatives mention where Harry did horrible things. He always then corrects them saying it was his brother George, not him. And we believe him, of course, for Harry is a nice fellow.
So nice, we are in fact shocked that his wife leaves him (fair enough, he did have an affair) and then pays him a lot of money to never contact her again. Now, why would you do that to such a lovely chap? But then let’s remember that one scene, where Harry’s wife reacts to Harry’s revelations that Jane (the brother’s wife) might have the hots for him.
“You were in her way and she was trying to get past you and not get to you,” Claire said. I didn’t mention that I felt the head of my cock pressing against my sister-in-law’s hips, her thighs pressed together. “Only you would think she was making a pass,” Claire said, disgusted. “Only me,” I repeated. “Only me.”
So possibly this wasn’t the first time? Possibly Claire knows something about Harry that Harry won’t tells us?
Now, let’s look at the children. They are just the regular zombified American pre-teens before Harry steps on the scene, but then thanks to his tender love and care they turn into these precocious, wonderful little things. Or at least that’s how Harry presents it to us. The kids don’t even seem to mind that he contributed to their mother’s death in a way. Harry can’t help it, you see. Women just want him. Wherever he goes they want him – he just happens to go on the internet random hook up site. Because that’s a normal thing to do when you ex-lover was murdered before your very eyes by your own brother. Just go online and set up a series of lunchtime fuck dates. Yet, when Harry describes it seems like just the thing to do. The book happens so fast I had no time to think and it was only after I finished reading that I thought: wait a minute, that’s actually pretty messed up.
So when everything starts going great, let’s assume it’s another one of Harry’s delusions. Not entirely made up, just slanted, because Harry sees what he chooses to see and presents it to us the way he wants to present it. But there are cracks in his story and sometimes they show, like when he suddenly suffers from guilt pangs over some murdered girl who had nothing to do with him.
I think this interpretation (for which I can’t take the sole credit or almost any credit at all, because it was discussed at our book club) makes ‘May We Be Forgiven’ a more exciting and interesting read, even if this is not what A.M. Homes intended at all. But we live in the post-modern times and this book now belongs to us, the readers, and we will do with it what we like.
I can't quite put my finger on why I enjoyed this book so much -- and was sad when it ended, and I couldn't spend more time with bumbling Harold and his hodge podge of a family of brave children, horny MILFs and demented seniors. The novel is basically a story of redemption -- how a cold, solipsistic inept man who has reacted to the traumas of life by immuring himself in routine and a loveless marriage is subjected to a series of Job-like trials (deservedly and some of his own causing), and comes out of them a loving nuturing mensch. It is often laugh out loud funny, sometimes horrifyingly noir, and perhaps because Homes does the dark side of modern life so well, the sweet and tender parts, which might seem saccharine in another writer's hands, are really quite enjoyable -- indeed, comforting. Yes, she says, we may be forgiven, and that seems good.
This is a sprawling book, and there was some stuff, like the Nixon plot (our antihero/hero is a (not very good) Nixon scholar and obssessive)), I could never quite figure out what it was doing there. This isn't a novel where you can see the author's grand design (at least I couldn't), and if you are hoping for a big reveal where the diverse threads all fit together into a pattern, you will be disappointed.
Despite that, or because, I was never quite sure what kind of book I was reading or why it worked so well, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It reminded me of John Irving a long long time ago (not in the last 20 years or so), an adventure set in an off-kilter suburbia, almost the real world, but not quite, somehow, completely engrossing, often funny, and ultimately moving.
A.M. Homes’ novel “May We Be Forgiven” starts exactly the way you want a novel by A.M. Homes to start: Harry Silver is helping his sister-in-law Jane clean up after Thanksgiving dinner at his blow hard, TV exec brother George’s house. During one haul to the kitchen, Jane cozies up to Harry, kisses him, and then dismisses what happened as something she doesn’t want to deconstruct. When Harry almost kind of mentions it to his distant wife Claire, she tells him he’s imagining things. Not long after, George rear ends a minivan in what is later deemed an accident but seems to be some sort of psychotic episode. A husband and wife are dead, but their son Ricardo lives. While George is hospitalized for his mental health, Claire suggests that Harry move in with Jane to provide comfort. But it’s a sexy version of comfort and one night George sneaks out of the hospital, comes home, finds them in bed together and beans his wife to critical condition with a lamp. She dies, George lands in jail and Harry is left to manage his pre-teen niece and nephew and to slowly absorb George’s stuff as his own.
And then: Hijinks. Chaos. Farce. Long narrative trips to comedic situations that aren’t worth the commitment. It all amounts to a painfully tedious story with a self-conscious whacky for the sake of whackiness to it. Cue the scene where Harry puts a full coffee cup on top of his car, realizes he has just seen Don Delillo and (clarinet music) Harry ends up with coffee all over his windshield. Of. Course.
It is plot-heavy, with a large cast of characters and their individual quirks to keep track of. Episodes start and then fizzle, or go on and on and on well beyond the point of interest, if there is one. Harry’s wife divorces him. He begins searching online for lunchtime hookups with bored wives. His position as a professor specializing in classes about Richard Nixon is scheduled to be eliminated after the semester. He’s still got a book in the works about Dick, though. Young Nate, 12, is away at boarding school and has in the past year been working on providing financial assistance to a small South African community. Young Ashley, 11, is at a different kind of boarding school and in one scene Harry has to talk her through the process of removing a tampon from the wrong hole and she ends up crapping on the floor of her room. Both kids have developed an interest in the newly orphaned Ricardo, an interest Ricardo’s guardian aunt doesn’t share, and Harry begins the process of taking him in as a foster child. There is a married woman who can’t get Harry out of her craw and a customer from the A&P who wants to bang him occasionally, but prefers to know nothing about him. He gains access to some super secret Nixon paperwork. He gets involved with the government’s plot to end his brother George’s illegal escapades. Harry is held hostage by young children curious about his motives toward their mother. The cat has kittens. His bedridden mother takes up dancing and a lover.
Oh. And Don Delillo makes a few appearances.
The story ends like 500 pages later and by then Harry is in charge of a whole brood of children and senior citizens and animals and small South African communities and you know what this is, right? It’s all quintessential Anne Lamott and her eternal message about DIY Family Kits, where strangers are adopted into the family and suddenly Thanksgiving is this eclectic event and no one knows how anyone knows anyone else and they take so many group photographs. Except Anne Lamott does this in like 250 pages and when you read Anne Lamott you know this is what you’re getting because it’s Anne Lamott and this is her jam. There are the usual hints that Harry has grown and changed over the course of the year of his life this story covers. But it’s not like a guy who takes on his brother’s family and pets is a monster to begin with. He visits his mother, repairs strained relationships with other relatives. His motives, at first, might be to assuage the guilt he feels about the situation and this morphs into a genuine affection for the people who have come into his life. But that’s such a subtle shift and by the end -- the quirky bar mitzvah, the trip to South Africa, the barbecue with his girlfriend’s husband and kids -- it’s not worth it.
May WE be forgiven if we neglect to read this dark comedy; a rip-snorting, turbulent, sometimes bizarre but thoroughly unexpected read!
Originally written as a short story, I am thrilled that Homes has continued it into a full length novel. And what a novel it is! Legal guardianship, murder, paranoia, family relationships, Nixon history, adultery, litigation, accidents, divorce, the elderly and internet-turned-physical relationships are all present in this savage satire of contemporary America.
It's like a fevered dream when the most unexpected, sometimes riotous and oddball things keep occurring. I'll admit to being irritated by the short staccato-like sentences which litter the first forty or so pages. But Homes rewarded my patience by delivering a novel that I found nearly impossible to leave until the ending. While reading, I might have looked like someone with a tourettes-like syndrome; strangled yips of laughter interrupting my guise of the serious reader. Read it! 4★
This novel becomes more and more unwieldy as the story unfolds. The absurdities Homes creates make you wonder, where is this going? How will this all come together? And somehow, Homes pulls it off. This is my first exposure to her fiction and I'm a fan. There is so much wit and intelligence in this novel. There is heart. Now, to be clear, there are some flaws. At times, the story just becomes absurd. Certain things are glossed over with just a bit too much blitheness, such as Ashley's situation at school, and the relative ease with which all things financial are addressed. There are a great many things going on in this book that really strain credulity but the core of this novel, about a man who learns how to love and creates a family of his own in the wake of some bad behavior, is so compelling that like the characters in this novel, the book's flaws may too be forgiven.
Bizi Bağışla, okurunu her alanda kilitleyip bırakan kitaplardan bir tanesi. Okumaya başladığımda olayların hızı ve karmaşası karşısında afallayıp kalmıştım. Zira yazar sizi daha ilk 100 sayfada, başka yazarın elinde 4 ciltlik kitap olacak olaylar silsilesi ile baş başa bırakıyor. Aynı şekilde 595 sayfa boyunca olaylar o kadar detaylı bir şekilde anlatılıyor ki, kitabın konusuna dair spoilersız bir yorum yapmak zorlaşıyor.
Birbirinin zıttı iki erkek kardeş aralarındaki kıskançlık hissinin gölgesinde kendilerine orta-üst düzey Amerikan hayatları kurmuşlardır. Fakat çocukluğundan beri şiddetin sınırlarında gezen George’un başına gelen bir felaketle dünyaları altüst olur. Ancak böyle bir sarsıntıyı hiçbir şekilde kafanızda kurabileceğinizden, hayal edebileceğinizden emin değilim. Güç, gaddarlık, cinsellik, iyi insan olma, iç huzur, eğitim ya da rehabilitasyon gibi çağdaş dünyada pozitif yönde pazarlanıp toplumların içini kemiren bütün saplantı ya da bağımlılıkları tek bir aile hikayesi üzerinden yerden yere vurarak anlatıyor. Ancak bu anlatıyı da öyle bir mizahla birleştiriyor ki göğsünüze öküz oturmuş hissi verecek durumları gayet eğlenerek okuyorsunuz. Özetle A. M. Homes’un sizi gerçeklikle hiciv arasında sürükleyip durduğu, gerek karakterlere gerekse kitaba dair ne hissedeceğinizi bilemediğiniz, ticari bir yapıya evrilen modern toplumun aklınızı alacak bir eleştirisi. Herkes mutlaka okusun, sevilmemesi imkansız diyebileceğim kitaplardan birisi değil kesinlikle. Ancak anlatmaya çalıştığım kadarıyla olan kısmı olsun ilginizi çektiyse mutlaka okuyun.
A very dark comedy of family life. I laughed out loud reading it. It's about a hapless man whose brother is a bully and has it all in life. The brother hits a car and kills 2 people and ends up in the hospital. Then the bully brother goes a bit insane. The hapless man helps the brothers wife, who he becomes romantic with. The brother escapes the hospital, bludgeons the wife with a lamp and kills her. The hapless bro then becomes in custody of the two children. The story begins with his misadventures into parenthood (oh, and his wife divorces him after finding out about the affair). It's hilarious and sad and dark. It begins and ends with Thanksgiving, and he reflects upon the changes and transformations that occurred in one year. I love the way she writes. I'll get more of her books.
555 stars. Just finished reading page 480 and I would be happy to turn back to page 1 and start again. I think it's safe to say I am a Homes disciple at this point. A lot of books build and build and end with something tragic, but this novel starts with tragic and asks, "How do we rise above? How do we come together?" It ends on Thanksgiving day, a new family coming together, one whose members have helped each other rise above. I think we would be welcome. Have a seat.
I have to admit I'm shocked to see so many possitive comments on this novel, which is the reason why I decided to write a review, even though at first I wasn't even going to bother.
Clearly, the people who actually liked this novel are NOT familiar with the author's previous works. On the contrary, the so-called A.M. Homes fanboys that didn't asked for their money back before getting to the middle of the book are, with all do respect, seriously disturbed. And not in a good, classic A.M. Homes way.
Nevertheless, I used to consider myself a Homes fanboy. That's why my expectations were so high, and when I finally purchased the enormous volume and settled down in the sofa, my hands were shaking nervously by the time I started reading.
Toward the first 50 pages I couldn't help but to check the dust cover again to see if maybe they had mistakenly placed another one of Homes' novels inside. Visibly, there were too many bells ringing in my head. Middle-aged man struggling with unbereable ennui in order to run away from the conforts of his empty suburban life? Wasn't this the topic of Homes'"This book will save your life"? Of course, both main characters have different careers and aspirations, but the narrative structure was esencially the same. Surely Jane's murder and the unfortunate events that unravel after the crime are enough to catch one's attention, although interest decreases after George is locked in a mental institution.
What follows is nauseated nonsense. Harry trying to win Nate's affection while aiming to become a subtitute father for him? Boring. Harry travelling out to see George in the hospital and dealing with his doctors? Yawn. Harold attending Nate's school activities? Argh. I desperately wanted to put the book down and forget about it. At one point I felt obliged to resume my reading, only to find an excessively long and exhausting novel, just as Nixon's own insignificance (by the way, the subplot about being a Nixon scholar was meant to be sarcastic, right?)
The ending is a total nightmare. Harry and everybody else reuniting at the table for Thanksgiving, each of them already redeemed or finding their way to absolution? What the hell? Life lessons on a A.M. Homes novel? Has she gone Christian? Is this a Sandra Bullock movie? Seriously, it's insulting, like if Patrick Bateman would have gone happily to jail at the end of "American Psycho", or if Tyler would have married Darla and bred a flock of fat children during the last chapters of "Fight Club".
In short, the only way you can be appealed by this book is if you're a die-hard fan of the Hallmark channel. Do yourself a favor, and read "Eat, Pray, Love" instead. Don't be surprised if Julia Roberts buys the rights for a movie adaptation.
The first 15 pages of this novel plunge you into a storyline you won't stop reading. You'll eventually realize you've landed in absurd realism. The story fragments into tangents you least expect, characters behave irrationally, unrealistically, absurdly, but then, somehow, Homes weaves it together into a tale that makes no sense to the brain, but thoroughly explains the heart. Our parents, our children, they are unknowable as simply genetic links that somehow define who we are, but a family can exist anywhere, across any geography, if we open ourselves to being that family. Caring for each other - so simple, identifying needs and providing for them the best we can - a plastic babydoll, a Hershey bar, a clean, quiet space to study -- the best gift is letting someone know you care. It's like a Hallmark card themed on the book of Job and illustrated in technicolor chaos.
At a stretch, this could be a coming of age even though Harry is a middle aged professor. What is unusual is his focus -- he loves Richard Nixon and his legacy. Which provides material for plot advancement that is at once hilarious and clueless. This novel starts off with a bang. Literally. Harry's brother George slams into a minivan setting in motion the events that change everyone's life. Mostly for the better. As Harry moves into George's house, clothes and roles, I couldn't help but wonder -- what caused George's meltdown? That is never explained but used as a device to advance the story. George is mostly offstage, visible in glimpses, and he might have fleshed out the story in a more satisfactory way. But this is really Harry's story. So maybe I should just shut up.
Got about halfway through my re-read of this one. Still wasn't compelled enough to get through it unfortunately.
I did skip to the end to see how it turned out--seemed like the plot's mania got forced to come around full circle.
It also seemed like I was supposed to have genuinely considered the moral implications of the story's premise (revealed early on so not that much of a spoiler): guy cheats on his wife with his brother's wife, who is then murdered by the brother. Is guy implicated?? The tone seemed too madcap to be taking such a thing seriously. And even if it didn't, well, bastards are gonna bastard. You really want me to break out my forensic kit and go, "Okay after all these obvious and easily avoidable wrong turns that several people took, let's find out who was wronger!"?
I don't know about you but when I read books there are set milestones of progress that I consider. If it's really big, I try to get to the first 100 pages with as few breaks as possible, because then I'm invested. The next milestone is always halfway through, and that's it until the end. Using this airtight logic way of gauging book progress (:P) I reckon this book was entertaining enough for 300 pgs. If, when I ran out of steam about pg 150, I'd realised it was halfway over, I would've powered through.
"They were absent children, absent of personality, absent of presence, and, except for holidays, largely absent from the house."—page 10
Perhaps no effort or experience is ever really a complete waste of time, but reading this novel, MAY WE BE FORGIVEN, by A. M. Homes—the narrative of which mostly oscillates in a range from 'lame and unpleasant' to outright 'stupid and disgusting'—comes very close.
Recommendation: I'm sorry I read it. And, now that I have, I'd be ashamed to recommend it to anyone else.
I think Aunt Lillian got this book spot on when she described the household in the book as a bunch of freaks, a random collection of people. This book has a brief tragedy at the beginning and then bugger all happens for the next 400pages, I read this to the end just incase something did happen, but alas all you get is to meet some freaky/weird people and watch as the main character collects people to live with him. It comes across like the writer has never interacted with another person and has no idea how they think....or maybe it is just me.
I have never ever read anything as dull as this book, also I have never cared less for any characters. If the book had ended in some kind of massacre then this would have improved it greatly, at least it would have given this reader some kind of closure, some reward for making it to the end.
This is another "award-winning" book that I've read which has left me wondering who got bribed to get this to first place. Avoid this book and develop a drinking habit instead, it'll be worth it in the long run.
This was the second book that I read on my kindle. I say this because the kindle allows you to read a sample before you buy. I loved the sample; the writing was funny, sharply observed and intriguing. I bought the book.
I quickly realised that reading this book was rather like meeting someone at a party where they are interesting, funny, intelligent, quirky, fun... Reading the book made me uncomfortable. I was desperate to finish it and get it away from me. I found the central character exasperating by turns and hugely boring at other times. I didn't find him convincing for much of the time. The passages about his brother were dire. Perhaps my day job allows me to see so many missed opportunities in those sections for comedy, good dialogue, great observations.
I learned about two thirds of the way through the book that the author was a woman and was surprised by that. I think that this may have been down to the mind numbing passages about sex...zzzzz.
There are however some wonderful moments and observations that happen to revive you when you are flagging.
The experience brings to mind the wonderful review of Wagner by Rossini "wonderful moments but terrible half hours"
I didn't expect to like this book based on the description, in fact last week I put it back down in favor of a different book from the 2013 Tournament of Books list. On the surface, it appeared to be about a middle-aged depressed professor who is making a mess of his life. Been there, read that, not interested in wasting my time on 500 pages of it.
I'm glad I tried it anyway. I'm glad I was won over by the first two lines: "Do you want my recipe for disaster? The warning sign: last year, Thanksgiving at their house."
The story starts off with a very depressing start, true to form. Harold sleeps with his brother's wife and gets involved in a host of messy situations afterwards, all which change his life in drastic ways. While it could have been a descent into destruction, there are surprises along the way. I had a hard time putting it down. It isn't just the story but the way the story is told...
Here's an example of a moment of humor: "I am up in the night. There are light scratching sounds, and then it begins, the e-awh, e-awh, like a loose bedspring, like people having sex. At first I think that's what it is - motel springs! The rhythmic squeaking of cheap, well-worn bedsprings. I listen at the wall - nothing. The other wall - the husband and wife talking. I listen to the floor - a television. I glance at the hamster. He crouches, frozen, caught in the act, his beady black eyes meeting mine. The round chrome wheel is no longer spinning, but still gently rocking back and forth, its motion slowing. 'You?' I ask. The hamster wiggles his nose. 'Me?' he seems to ask, equally surprised."
Here's an example of a moment of character insight, as Harold reflects on his upbringing: "The irony is that, though my parents expected George and me to grow up and be president, they didn't believe we were actually even capable of crossing the street on our own... they were lousy with bitterness. We were supposed to become president ruling from the children's table while never daring to dream of going beyond where our parents had been; never transcending."
Great read, recommended, I hope it does well in the "tournament."
— Доктор, мне кажется, что по мне все время ползают маленькие зеленые крокодильчики... — А что вы их на меня-то стряхиваете?!
Я отказываюсь верить, что автор это все всерьез; тем не менее – на весь (очень хорошо написанный) текст нет ни одной шутки, но есть, например, момент, где двадцатипятилетняя толстая секретарша китайского происхождения ("они приехали удочерить малышку, но малыши кончились, а я такая же глупая, как ребёнок, поэтому они взяли меня") требует от героя 500 долларов за то, чтобы соединить его с раввином. Это я самый невинный и реалистичный, прошу заметить, эпизод цитирую.
Короче, это полная, невероятная сюжетная дикость, абсурд на грани фантастики, граничащий с вульгарностью и идиотизмом, но автор всю дорогу умудряется не изменить выбранному направлению и ни разу, ни разу не подвергает сомнению или стебу никого из многочисленных и абсолютно неправдоподобных героев. Это удивительно и свежо и вызывает испуганное уважение.
УПД. Нет, ну я прямо не могу, полночи об этой книжке думала, ужасно интересно, что же на самом деле задумывала автор, и действительно ли она на серьезных щах все это сочинила. Вот эту историю про то, как мальчик десяти лет съездил в ЮАР, дал там одной деревне папиных денег, они построили школу и переименовали деревню в его честь. Или вот про то, как чокнутого папашу вместо санатория для больных и агрессивных выпускают в манеж типа Голодных игр, и там он сначала пытается поймать на ужин зайца, а потом с помощью подаренного ему на ДР айпада и Амазона д��бавляет в друзья бывшего израильского боевика, и они начинают торговать оружием? Кажется, в книге собраны вместе и доведены до крайности все obsessions нашего времени: секс, жестокость, благотворительность, психотерапия, исправительные учреждения, частные школы, наконец. Я все же за то, что это большая и, если разбираться, неглупая гипербола, но тысячи читателей почему-то вполне серьезно критикуют книжку за "так не бывает": мол, мужик ударил лампой жену - так бывает, а мужик нашёл рассказы Никсона и приютил чужих стариков - уже не бывает.
The first portion of "May We Be Forgiven" was published as a short story in the New Yorker, and I couldn't put it down. Bizarre family tragedies occur in the life of a man who is detached and bitter but maintains a dark sense of humor that makes the story accessible to the reader.
It should have stayed as a short story. The plot comes to a standstill, the main character feels less real and more like a stick figure (maybe in part because the author is a woman - I'm not convinced she can write an authentic male character), the prose gets dull and soon I realize that I'm only reading the book because I'd paid 16 bucks for it. So I stopped in the middle, returned it and never looked back.
This book teaches us two things. 1) If you can get published in the New Yorker, then you're set, regardless of the merit of your work; and 2) Publishers seem to love gimmicky, easy-to-read books with a pseudo-postmodern bent - and apparently, so do the readers. Other authors that fall into this category are Jonathon Safran Foer and Junot Diaz, in whose books bad writing passes as original.
Winner Women's Prize for Fiction 2013 - This near vitriolic satire / dark comedy on the disintegration of three families leading to the creation of a new type of family.A story that involves internet dating, a Richard Nixon obsessive, a Bar Mitzvah in rural South Africa, a free-for-all criminal internment camp and much more. What a great writer, what great read! 8 out of 12.
(3/10) May We Be Forgiven comes highly recommended to me by a lot of critics and reviews who I respect. I saw it pop up on a lot of best-of-the-year lists. Which is why it's so surprising that this is one of the worst book I've read in quite a while, and certainly the worst book I've read 500 pages of. This isn't a "not my cup of tea" thing either -- this is a "are we talking about the same book?" thing.
The novel is about Harold Silver, a professor who has to step into his brother's place after he (the brother, that is) is overtaken by violent insanity. Much of the novel is centred around Harold's attempt to cope with his brother's children, along with a number of other dependents he picks up over the course of the novel, although none of this seems to require much sacrifice, virtue or even effort from him (which doesn't stop others from telling him what a great guy he is). The affect of the novel is flat and emotionless, using an extremely minimalist language, and even dramatic incidents are told in the same way you would talk about going out for lunch.
I suspect that this is part of the novel's intentional absurdity. Most of the book is a dry, postmodern satire of contemporary American society, which would be great if the satire extended beyond rattling off contemporary phenomena (Text messages! Casual sex! Asian people!) with a vague sense of befuddlement. It comes off mostly as a cut-rate Don DeLillo (and I'm not entirely sold on full-price Don DeLillo), with Homes even having DeLillo make a cameo appearance just in case reviewers weren't sure what comparisons to make. Absurd situations arise repeatedly, in a mostly episodic fashion, but it all somehow manages to be kind of dull. Still, it's not unpleasant to read, and for most of the book I thought it was coasting along to a two-star rating, maybe even three if I was feeling unsure of myself. Surely there would be some point coming along where it really got good.
But then Homes seems to decide that postmodern irony is out and doubles down on all the squishy emotions of the American novel. We have a makeshift family being warmly brought together, soul-enhancing travel, an ending in which the characters explicitly talk about how they've come full circle, and more. It's a veritable parade of sentiment. Oh, and then there's the unironic celebration of the benevolence of rich white people to help out the Third World, like poor primitive South Africa. Here's a representative quote, from a grateful African mayor (spoilers, I guess):
There are moments in the book that I can see people liking -- there's an interesting subplot about Nixon having a secret trove of fiction that never really goes anywhere, a great scene at a nudist laser tag event, and most of the supporting characters are likeable -- but I'm flabbergasted by the wholehearted seal of approval so many have given this novel. For me reading it was like drinking your way through a huge bowl of bland, watery soup because this is a four-star restaurant and you're sure your palate is just off, only to find a crawling pile of maggots at the bottom.
This is a surprisingly divisive book. I say surprisingly because I really enjoyed it and was expecting to read universal, unequivocal acclaim, however for all the reviews praising the book, there are plenty of readers who seem less convinced by its charms.
This book was given to me as a birthday gift and is the second book I have read by AM Homes. The first was "This Book Will Save Your Life" which I read when it came out and also really enjoyed.
'May We Be Forgiven' is bookended by two consecutive Thanksgiving celebrations. In the intervening year there is enough plot for five books. It's got the lot - sibling rivalry, death, violence, humour, scandal, ageing, tragedy, sex, politics, travel and much more. I found this supremely enjoyable.
Ultimately the book is about redemption in a very modern context, and what it means to be human and alive. I thought it was funny, clever, insightful, touching and profound. If you have a tolerance for a heavily plot-driven, implausible, absurd but undeniably feel-good story then you too will probably find this book an engaging and rewarding read.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of A M Homes until two months ago and bought this only because it won the Booker against strong odds. I had no idea what May we Be Forgiven was about. I heard it compared to Freedom, the new American novel. Within the first few pages, I was hooked. It seemed like noir fun. Harry, the narrator and unlikely hero is a schlemiel. Shit just keeps tripping him, falling on him, knocking him down. Harry marshall's on. Picking his niece and nephew up, their dog, Tessie up, himself up, after being fired and bizarre lonely women, up. Harry , up until now, has led an unsuccessful, undemanding, unhappy life. Ashley and Nate, his new responsibilities, take Harry on, and make him the mensche he never knew he was or could be. That being said, I thought May We Be Forgiven was a fantasy. No 37 year old childless man could run a house, care for his niece and nephew, foster care an orphan, adopt an elderly couple, make a bar mitzvah and chocolate chip cookies and have lots of sex. I really left a lot out of Harry's Herculean tasks out. I didn't even mention that Harry lost his wife and lover within the first 50 pages. I would not compare this novelist to Franzen, maybe early Irving. The pace was fast, frenetic . The characters were each special, bright, quirky, and articulate. Whether Harry is in tony Westchester, visiting his brother in a psychiatric setting, a jail, a desert, a nursing home, a lawyer's office, examining Nixon's newly discovered writing,or in South Africa, you just know that Harry will accept whatever is thrown at him . Does it all make sense? No. Do you ever fear that he will drop the ball, disappoint his newly adopted family ? No. There is very little tension. Homes' new book has been described as a roller coaster. I don't feel or see that. It is an adventure. Despite all the curves and the speed, Harry's family, new friends and his fans know that Harry Silver is golden and that he can and will steer his overloaded horse on the the Carousel making sure that each of his adoptees are strapped on, but, also able to reach for and grab onto a golden ring. Personally, I can't compare this to John Barthe's Floating Opera, but Homes' story does travel far and wide and gently, despite the deaths of three innocents, the punches thrown, the helicopter commandos and the death of Nixon's fiction.
This is one of those books that, if you write at all, you get about twenty pages in and all you can think is, "I suck." Homes is a master craftslady. I can't remember the last time I've been so completely engrossed in a novel. This book is like an upgraded and updated and (if possible) even darker version of "The Corrections." There's a lot of buzz in the literary world about the new trend in novel writing being a takedown of the seemingly stereotypical upper class family. There's a sick pleasure, almost Haneke-esque and definitely Franzen-esque in watching this family continually fall apart, and Homes, through her characters and their interactions, seems to be having a lot of fun in the destruction, while also bringing to the light all the sick impulses that humanity acts onin the dark. This is, literally, the novel Jonathan Franzen couldn't write but really would have wanted to: Homes knows how to involve modern technology and this is the first really successful attempt I've seen at that in contemporary literature. The "technology" isn't a character, and it doesn't take over the novel (in figuring out how to navigate our now uber-connected world into their novels, writers are for the most part still struggling). Homes seems to be the only person out their who realizes that, despite the increasing encroachment of the reality that characters in contemporary literature are, like us, always "plugged in" what matters the most are the events and interactions that happen in "real life." And what could have been a really hokey ending, (I mean, she really took a risk on this ending) was miraculously, and surprisingly, genuine. After exposing and embarrassing the modern world's desire for self and social aggrandizement, and the often disgusting and degrading ways we paw around at making connections in real life as we prefer the safety of the screen; Homes gives us a surprisingly hopeful payoff. So far, this is the best book of the Fall 2012 reckoning. I can't wait to read this book again.
I have never read A.M. Homes and if this book is a shining sample of her accomplished works, this will be my last A.M. Homes book no offense to the author or her loyal fans. The book is tedious and random. It has very witty and humous moments that ease the pain of irrelevancy to a numbing throb of discomfort. Four hundred and eighty pages of supposed suburban life. The family as a whole is borderline crazy. Harry should be institutionalized. He sits on the fence dangling his legs on both sides dripping his toes into the pond of sanity and insanity. The sanest person in the whole book was Claire, Harry's wife, yet she stayed married to the man until the big incident. The whole Nixon side story was interesting at first but building onto that storyline made me feel like that should be a separate book. It has depth but lacks purpose to me. Many points, in most of the story lines, I kept asking myself am I really supposed to care about this? I truly felt skipping twenty papers here and there would not have rendered me clueless in what was going on because there was a lot...a whole lot of nothing going on. Sadly if you took some of the story lines and incorporated them into independent books, they might be worth a read especially given the opportunity to properly expound the plot. Instead I wondered does one need to get high to follow alice down this rabbit hole. Or in this case, Harry.