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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "An Extended Kumbaya Chant"
This novel embodies a clash of two literary themes. The opening chapters are quite spicy--garnished with quirky, kinky, violent, depraved and hypersexual scenarios--followed later by a Pollyannaish morality tale which turns into one extended Kumbaya chant. In these chapters a sugary patina is applied to just about everyone-- the pets, the geriatric set, the children, the...
Published on October 15, 2012 by Cary B. Barad

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Modern fairytale with too-easy happy ending
This novel begins with an act of horrific violence that is frankly unforgivable. So my answer to the question implied by the book's title is "no." But there is an easy kind of redemption embedded in the book designed to let the protagonist (and the author) off the hook and make the reader feel good. That probably explains why reviewers loved this book and...
Published 10 months ago by Alan A. Elsner


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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "An Extended Kumbaya Chant", October 15, 2012
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This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
This novel embodies a clash of two literary themes. The opening chapters are quite spicy--garnished with quirky, kinky, violent, depraved and hypersexual scenarios--followed later by a Pollyannaish morality tale which turns into one extended Kumbaya chant. In these chapters a sugary patina is applied to just about everyone-- the pets, the geriatric set, the children, the adulterers, etc. Suddenly, all are supersensitive philosophers, global ecumenicists--respectful, improbably intelligent, well-behaved and philanthropic. Money never seems to be a problem to these folks and exorbitant spending sprees ensue. To be quite honest, however, the Richard Nixon thread is done very well and the literary quality is actually quite high overall. As a result, I have no problem giving this book a 4-Star rating.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful story of despair and redemption exposing the heart of darkness at the core of suburban life, October 15, 2012
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
In novels like THE END OF ALICE and MUSIC FOR TORCHING, A.M. Homes hasn't shied away from grim subjects, pedophilia and school gun violence only two of them. Her new novel returns to familiar territory --- the American suburbs --- to tell a powerful story of despair and redemption, all the while probing what she's consistently sought to expose, in the vein worked by writers like Richard Yates and John Cheever, as the real heart of darkness at the core of suburban life.

Homes observed in a recent interview that "Despite the sense that things are looking up now, there remains an ongoing level of discomfort, an unarticulated anxiety about what will `go wrong' next." That's the spirit that looms over this story. It begins with two violent acts perpetrated by George Silver, a prominent television executive with anger management issues and the younger brother of Harold Silver, the story's narrator. The first is a car accident that kills a mother and father, leaving behind their young son. The second, George's murder of his wife when he returns home to find her in bed with Harold, launches Homes' protagonist on a lurching journey of self-discovery.

Though the disasters that cascade over Harold (divorce, illness and job loss only a few of them) at times rises almost to a Job-like level, that's where the similarities to the biblical character end. On his own behalf the most he can say is, "Before this happened, I had a life, or at least I thought I did; the quality, the successfulness of it had not been called into question." Clearly, he's more acted upon than actor.

In contrast to his outwardly successful brother, Harold is a historian specializing in the study of Richard Nixon, a man he considers "the bridge between our prewar Depression-era culture and the postwar prosperous-American-dream America." He's toiled for years on a Nixon monograph that's grown to 1,300 pages, but it's only the discovery of a cache of short stories written by the disgraced president that offers him a glimpse of professional relevance. Grimly determined to teach disengaged students about events like the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Watergate scandal, Harold is informed by his department chair that the traditional view of history instruction must be abandoned for one that's "future-forward," in which students explore the "world of possibility," not the fossilized past.

With his sister-in-law dead and his brother incarcerated, Harold moves into their Westchester County home to assume custody of Nate and Ashley, their adolescent children. In the Thanksgiving dinner that opens the novel (it closes on that holiday a year later), Harold observes them as they "sat like lumps at the table, hunched, or more like curled, as if poured into their chairs, truly spineless, eyes focused on their small screens, the only thing in motion their thumbs." What quickly becomes clear, though, is that their emotional intelligence is more highly developed than any of the adult characters. At their urging, Harold brings Ricardo, the young survivor of the car accident, into the household. That decision, along with Harold's deepening sense of responsibility for these children, so damaged by the acts of self-absorbed "grownups," allows Homes to roam the landscape of our fractured, hybrid families, contrasting them with the genetic legacy that's contributed to some of the Silvers brothers' dysfunctional behavior.

Only a writer of Homes' sensibilities would anchor her protagonist's redemption in Internet sex. Cheryl, the housewife Harold meets in that venue, becomes an odd sort of conscience, pushing him toward becoming a better version of himself, as she's urging him on to more misbehavior. In the way it exposes the tortured soul of its narrator, MAY WE BE FORGIVEN is a spiritual cousin to novels like Joseph Heller's SOMETHING HAPPENED, Don DeLillo's WHITE NOISE and Jonathan Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS.

Homes administers frequent doses of humor to leaven the seriousness of her concerns. That wit is deployed, not to mock or amuse, but instead to reflect our lives back to us in a fresh, often startling, way. Whether it's a swingers' club gathered at a suburban strip mall for a night of laser tag, some bizarre permutations of the American correctional system or the ministrations of an event planner arranging a South African bar mitzvah that's among the most unusual in the history of Judaism, Homes displays her penchant for putting a distinctive spin on the oddities of contemporary culture. That's a talent that can't be underestimated in a time when every day's news brings stories more inconceivable than anything conjured out of the imagination of the most talented writer of what passes for realist fiction.

And it's a reminder that, despite her book's title, Homes is a social satirist, not a moralist. Even with her sometimes painful bite, she demonstrates real compassion for her characters, and it's that depth of feeling that keeps us engrossed in their story. Because the truth is that for all its unsentimental, at times cynical, view of the current American psyche, at the end of this wild ride Homes' take on our current predicament is a fundamentally optimistic one.

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
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63 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much Much Better than these reviewers are writing, October 9, 2012
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This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
I've read two of Homes' books before and loved both of them. When I read the awful reviews on Amazon, I debated whether to read it or not. In general, I won't read a book unless it's rated 4 stars and above. I really enjoyed this book. The only reason that I don't give it 5 stars is that I realize that this is not a book for many people. I enjoyed Harold's ride of life through the book. I thought he became a pretty good person despite his background and the bad things that happen to him in the book. I think his sex life is totally unbelievable but since I thought this book was filled with comedy, I took the sex sequences as part of the comedy. I enjoyed the Nixon side of the book because I was around during his presidency and the mess he made of it. I liked how Harold's life just grew around him, almost without him trying, because he was basically a nice guy. Most families have some type of dysfunction in them and Harold's family has plenty. However, who would not care for a sick brother or sick mother? Who would not care for the other characters that come into Harold's life. I think Homes has a good insight into our lives and it shows in this good book.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As the world turns, December 10, 2012
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This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
I don't have a lot of patience with books that don't deliver. Forgiven may be the longest book I've read all year, but never once was I tempted to skip to the end and move on to the next candidate on the nightstand. Reading the book was like sinking into an impossibly comfortable chair: I simply took pleasure in being immersed in the story and feel a little lost now that I have finished.

There are a bunch of downer reviews here that focus on the book's grim beginning and a few other sordid plot points. But a 25-words-or-less summary of Forgiven doesn't do the book justice. In fact, this is not a book with much of a plot, although a lot happens, ranging from the mundane to the no-seriously-that-could-never-have-happened. The action-packed first chapter sets the tone: readers who are willing to jump in and hang on after that whirlwind introduction are the kind of people who can ignore their inner skeptics and enjoy the ride.

Mostly, Forgiven is about characters who undergo significant transformations over the course of a year (a fact that Homes feels compelled to broadcast; we get the point). Homes has the ability to infuse a fairly large cast with such authenticity that by the time I was halfway through the book, Harry and his entourage seemed like old friends, or family, or maybe people I didn't like very much but still appreciated for their quirkiness. With a deft hand and trenchant wit, she keeps the reader not just engaged but eager to flip to the next page.

Not that this book is for everyone, as the single-star reviews will attest. It's not a fast-paced mystery, its characters are not glamorous, and the thematic foundation is of the mundane middle-aged angsty sort. But if you like dark humor, if you're not above snark, and if you are looking for a book to live in for a few hundred pages, Forgiven may be your next new favorite too.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Modern fairytale with too-easy happy ending, December 7, 2013
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This novel begins with an act of horrific violence that is frankly unforgivable. So my answer to the question implied by the book's title is "no." But there is an easy kind of redemption embedded in the book designed to let the protagonist (and the author) off the hook and make the reader feel good. That probably explains why reviewers loved this book and festooned it with prizes. I enjoyed it well enough - but never bought into the fairy tale aspects of the plot.

As the book begins, we are around a Thanksgiving table. The father of the family, the brutal and mentally-disturbed George Silver, is carving turkey. His two children, aged 10 and 11 sit like lumps at the table diddling with their devices. In the kitchen, George's brother Harry is kissing George's wife Jane.

Fast forward a few weeks: George is involved in a hit-and-run killing a couple in the other car and leaving their son an orphan. George bursts into his house, finds Harry and Jane together and smashes Jane in the head with a vase or something. She is fatally injured, lingers for a chapter or two in a coma and then is switched off. Harry assumes responsibility for the two children.

At first, this book seems like a progression of Harry's life downhill. He's a professor at a minor college teaching kids about Richard Nixon, the subject of an unfinished book he's been writing for years. Harry kind of admires Tricky Dicky - another character on a downward spiral. We get a lot about Nixon in this book - some real, some imagined. It seems to stand for a kind of metaphor but the meaning remained elusive for me.

Somewhere along the line, Harry hits bottom and starts to take responsibility. He begins by taking care of the family pets (the two kids are in boarding school) and then becomes more involved with the children. He begins to gather a weird community of misfits around himself -- and everyone draws strength from everyone else.

There are some bizarre episodes in this book, somewhat surrealistic and somewhat funny. But the serious intent seems to rest around the idea that if we can only connect with one another as humans, we can succeed. By the time the next Thanksgiving rolls around, Harry is OK, the kids are OK, the orphaned victim of the hit-and-run is OK, the woman who received Jane's transplanted heart is OK, the Nixon book is OK and they have even transformed a village in South Africa.

But of course this is just a fantasy. The author clearly prefers her moral dilemmas heavily diluted. In one telling episode, the 11-year-old daughter is sexually molested by her teacher at the boarding school. Remember, her psychotic father has just murdered her adulterous mother, leaving her in the care of her adulterous uncle. Instead of relating to this as a horrific crime that demands both punishment for the abuser and therapy for the victim, Harry uses it as a way of exerting $250,000 from the school to hush up the incident. That's not OK.

This book has its strengths but I do feel the critics who fell over backward to lavish uncritical praise ignored its very real weaknesses.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious Read, November 29, 2012
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This was my book club suggested read and it was painful for me. I thought it was laborious, unlikable characters and just not enjoyable for me.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm not sure I loved it as much as other people seemed to, October 8, 2012
This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
I know I've said this about a million times on this blog, but one of my favourite things about being a book blogger is that I am introduced to all kinds of books and authors who might not otherwise been on my radar. I enter lots of giveaways, I request advanced reading copies or digital galleys of books to review, or I'm sent copies by authors or publishers. More often than not, it's an author I haven't read before and I get a chance to discover them for the first time. A lot of times, it's an author who already has a big fan base even if they're new to me.

Such was the case with A.M. Homes. The reviews of her books on Goodreads are filled with people gushing about how she's their favourite writer, how they love her black humour, how they laughed out loud when reading this book. That seemed like a big claim to me since this book starts out with a horrible violent tragedy that leaves two kids orphaned and being raised by their uncle, Harold. But it is funny. Sort of. Eventually.

There are certainly elements of the absurd. Harold's bizarre attempts to find love on the internet with kinky housewives. His decision to bring bar mitzvahs to a tiny African village. His obsession with Nixon. And the most unfortunate incident when he has to explain to his young niece how to properly use a tampon (that last one still makes me wince).

But what separates the absurd humour of this novel from, say, a Christopher Moore farce, is the underlying sadness throughout the story. For all its unusual twists and turns, it's still a story abut a family torn apart by violence and trying to deal with the aftermath. Even months after watching his brother fly into a murderous rage, Harold's greatest challenge is--and remains--to forgive himself.

And that is the real power of the book. The idea that no matter how extreme, how bizarre, how absurd or how painful the world around us gets, it's our own actions we must make peace with in order to move on.

For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through GoodReads in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favourable) review. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a good joke, November 27, 2012
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This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
The tone is monotonous. Her short, dry, humor works well here and there; but when done for hundreds of pages it simply isn't worth it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mid-life curve gets rather bizarre (3.25*s), October 31, 2012
By 
J. Grattan (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (Hardcover)
This strange, surreal, slightly humorous novel follows the bizarre developments in the life of middle-aged history professor Harold Silver following his younger brother George's violent murder of his wife Jane. Unfortunately, it is Harold, pretty much eclipsed by his dominating, big-shot TV executive brother, who succumbed to the advances of Jane and was caught red-handed by George, resulting in her enraged killing.

The story is told by Harold as essentially an outside observer, practically floating above it all, not quite believing, certainly not understanding, that his life is taking so many weird turns. First, oddly enough, after the instant dissolving of his own dysfunctional marriage, he is given custody of his brother's two children, Nate and Ashley, and moves into George's house. He bounces from one adolescent issue to the next, surprisingly, landing on his feet. More puzzling are his peculiar adventures into the world of instant Internet hookups. And then there is the mysterious female who follows him home from the A&P.

His college recognizes that he is essentially a dinosaur in the history department, his fixation on Richard Nixon being evident proof. However, he gets a second wind when Julie Eisenhower, Nixon's daughter, asks Harold to catalog her father's previously unknown efforts at fiction. The escapism is ratcheted up considerably when Harold decides that Nate's bar mitzvah should take place in a remote village in S. Africa at considerable cost. George's dealings with an Israeli agent in some sort of arms procurement boondoggle while incarcerated is way off the plausibility charts.

Despite the rather farfetched nature of the book, it does manage to capture how unsettling life can get when thrown a big curve at midstream. When one starts scrambling, there seems to be few limits as to what might develop. There is a distinct lack of emotional intensity, as Harold seems to be only vaguely connected to what is transpiring beneath his own feet. The same subject can easily be approached with more grit.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing..., February 19, 2013
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I loved Music for Torching...but what was all that about Nateville? The children wouldn't have the vocabulary they had. The eleven-year-old girl ...not believable. South Africa is when it got completely stupid. I had high hopes...The main character (narrator) only made me feel apathy for him and his extended family. First third of the book wasn't bad....I struggled to get through the rest even when I knew it was hopeless. Blah....
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May We Be Forgiven: A Novel
May We Be Forgiven: A Novel by A. M. Homes (Hardcover - September 27, 2012)
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