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May We Be Forgiven: A Novel Paperback – September 24, 2013
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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“An entertaining, old-fashioned American story about second chances…A.M. Homes is a writer I’ll pretty much follow anywhere because she’s indeed so smart, it’s scary; yet she’s not without heart…May We Be Forgiven [is] deeply imbued with the kind of It’s A Wonderful Life-type belief in redemption that we Americans will always be suckers for, and rightly so.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“Cheever country with a black comedy upgrade…Homes crams a tremendous amount of ambition into May We Be Forgiven, with its dark humor, its careening plot, its sex-strewn suburb and a massive cast of memorable characters...its riskiest content, however, is something different: sentiment. This is a Tin Man story, in which the zoned-out Harry slowly grows a heart.” —Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times
“Darkly funny…the moments shared between this ad hoc family are the novel’s most endearing…Homes’ signature trait is a fearless inclination to torment her characters and render their failures, believing that the reader is sophisticated enough – and forgiving enough – to tag along.” —Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Time Magazine
“Homes, whose masterful handling of suburban dystopia merits her own adjective, may have just written her midcareer magnum opus with this portrait of a flawed Nixonian bent on some sort of emotional amnesty.” —Christopher Bollen, Interview
“At once tender and uproariously funny…one of the strangest, most miraculous journeys in recent fiction, not unlike a man swimming home to his lonely house, one swimming pool at a time: it is an act of desperation turned into one of grace.” —John Freeman, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A big American story with big American themes, the saga of the triumph of a new kind of self-invented nuclear family over cynicism, apathy, loneliness, greed, and technological tyranny…this novel has a strong moral core, neither didactic nor judgmental, that holds out the possibility of redemption through connection.” –Kate Christensen, Elle
“Heartfelt, and hilarious…Although Homes weaves in piercing satire on subjects like healthcare, education, and the prison system, her tone never veers into the overly arch, mostly thanks to Harold – a loveably earnest guy who creates his own kind of oddball, 21st century family.” –Leigh Newman, O The Oprah Magazine
“A.M. Homes has long been one of our most important and original writers of fiction. May We Be Forgiven is her most ambitious as well as her most accessible novel to date; sex and violence invade the routines of suburban domestic life in a way that reminded me of The World According to Garp, although in the end it’s a thoroughly original work of imagination.” –Jay McInerney
“This novel starts at maximum force -- and then it really gets going. I can't remember when I last read a novel of such narrative intensity; an unflinching account of a catastrophic, violent, black-comic, transformative year in the history of one broken American family. Flat-out amazing.” —Salman Rushdie
“I started this book in the A.M., finished in the P.M., and couldn’t sleep all night. Ms. Homes just gets better and better.” —Gary Shteyngart
“What if whoever wrote the story of Job had a sense of humor? Nixon is pondered. One character donates her organs. Another tries to grow a heart. A seductive minefield of a novel from A.M. Homes.” —John Sayles
“I started reading A.M. Homes twenty years ago. Wild and funny, questioning and true, she is a writer to go travelling with on the journey called life.” —Jeanette Winterson
About the Author
A.M. Homes was born in Washington D.C. graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa, lives in New York City and teaches at Princeton University. Her work appears in ArtForum, Granta, The Guardian, McSweeney’s, Modern Painters, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Electric Literature, Playboy, and Zoetrope. She works in television, most recently as as Co-Executive Producer of Falling Water and Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, and is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. She is the recipient of awards including the Guggenheim, NEA, and NYFA fellowships. Her most recent novel, May We Be Forgiven, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2013, and has been optioned for film by Unanimous Entertainment.
Top customer reviews
If you like your comedy dark enough that somehow a man bludgeoning his wife to death with a lamp comes across as funny, you’re in for a treat. The hero of the book, Harold Silver, finds himself suddenly responsible for his young niece and nephew following the aforementioned incident. Suddenly, his boring, mundane, unfulfilling life changes drastically as he’s forced into a paternal role, and he undergoes a deep personal transformation.
Since this is Homes’ world, everything is rife for biting satire and dark comedy, with strange characters unlike any you’ve ever encountered. If I even tried to explain more of the plot, it would sound outrageous out of context, but Homes manages to infuse it with so much humor and tenderness that it’s consistently both amusing and touching.
May We Be Forgiven breaks down all of the cultural norms we associate with middle-class nuclear family life and in doing so, offers hope in place of cynicism. It reminds us that despite our best efforts, we will inevitably hurt ourselves and others, but reassures us that we’re never beyond repair.
I admire Homes for her courageous writing. She dares to go to dark places that many other mainstream authors avoid. My only qualm with this novel is that I think it could have been shorter — there were times when it dragged on without the plot really moving forward — but overall it’s another winner from an important contemporary writer.
Harold Silver, a mediocre college professor with lumpen students, confronts a family crisis when his brother George kills two people in a car accident. Harold stays in his brother's house to comfort his wife, and ends up in his brother's bed, in his brother's wife. Brother George finds them when he somehow escapes the mental unit where he's been restrained; whereupon George murders his wife by slamming her over the head with a lamp. Harold feels guilty about this.
However, Harold readily moves in to George's house, wears his brother's clothes, assumes custody of his brother's children, and has full access to his brother's money. Therefore, it's not too terrible for Harold when he gets fired from his three-class-a-week "professor" job. He will just finish his 1300-page tome on Richard Nixon, with whom he is obsessed. While working on his manuscript, George next gets distracted with a couple of nutty sex buddies, one of whom abandons her parents into Harold's custody, and through the ensuing hi-jinx he manages personal growth.
Cheryl, the sex buddy who didn't abandon Harold, turns out to be a relative of Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who makes arrangements for Harold to edit some recently discovered short fiction by Richard M. Nixon. Going up the elevator building where he does the editing, Harold encounters, if that is the word, an unidentifiable Nixon imitator who stands behind him and says mean things to him. What is this about? We will have to draw our own conclusions.
The adventures continue: Harold is bonding with the children and *adopting* the child of the 2 people George killed in the car accident; then he is flying a bunch of people over to South Africa for a bar mitzvah in 'Nateville," a village that George's 12-year-old son had visited in a Habitat kind of way. All kinds of fireworks ensue, including almost getting kidnapped by some bad guys on their way back to the airport to go home. Nobody gets hurt; Harold takes a medicine man's tea doses, and seemingly feels exorcised of his demons. Whatever they were; you'll draw your own conclusions.
The novel could be described as an upscale version of Anne Tyler's *Saint Maybe* (where the protagonist finds redemption through raising his dead brother's stepchildren) combined with the sensibilities and improbabilities of Jonathan Franzen's *Freedom*. It also reminds me of Laurie Colwin's "Happy All the Time," a morality tale around the notion that if only people would behave and do the tasks set before them, life could be beautiful. In the end of May We Be Forgiven, Harold's family with all the old people (old and new) children (old and new) enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving with just enough crabbiness to try for versimilitude. In the end, as a reader, I felt not resolved or entertained but manipulated. And as I said, I was also left with questions.
1) Why is story narrated in the first person? I thought Harold might be unreliable narrator but he turned out to be an unreliable unreliable narrator. The author keeps laying down hints that there aren't any tricks, there is no other shoe that is going to drop, that it really is a book about second chances. Yet I couldn't help hoping the whole thing would turn out that actually he, Harold, is the murderer in the mental hospital having a giant fantasy that he is living his brother George's life. No such luck.
2) Why does the story have to "jump the shark" so many times? What is the purpose? Did we have to have so much strain on our disbelief? Why so many twists and turns, some of which I've omitted in the review. Couldn't Homes make her point in a less ridiculous way? It's just plain irritating.
3) Why does money never have to be a problem? I was itching for the money to go poof so the narrator would have to open a boarding house. As it so happens, the people he takes in all have ample means of support (in addition to getting along perfectly).
In conclusion, the novel was a good read, but it got on my nerves. It's just all a little too ridiculous and a little too easy. It feels like pyrotechnics are trying to cover up a lack of real dramatic conflict. But as I said, I am just not sure I get it.
Pat Caplan Andrews June 13, 2013