Customer Reviews: Things You Should Know: A Collection of Stories
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on October 14, 2002
Homes has a vivid imagination and outstanding writing skills. She's in command of her storytelling technique. Her prose strikes all the right notes. She's even good at characterization.
Unfortunately, she's a slave to literary fashion, specifically, boring, New Yorker-style catatonic realism. (In fairness, perhaps to break the mold a little, Homes tosses in some self-consciously clever surrealistic bits here and there, but it doesn't work.) Homes gets accolades because she believes all the right things and expresses them in all the right ways -- but that's not the sign of an intellectually rigorous writer.
The women tend to be hyper-accomplished professionals, usually married to confused, weak men whom they have to dress and feed in the morning. This scenario got tired after the second story. By the fourth I began to feel like I was dealing with an ideologue.
Of course, that's the risk when you put together collections of stories from the last ten years. You start to see the writer's tricks ... for example, several of her characters are obsessed with being prepared. They try to stock up on emergency supplies to plan for every conceivable occurrence. OK, good enough idea once. But two, three times?
Recommendation: If you like New Yorker-style fiction, you'll really enjoy this. If you want ideas and characters explored in a little more depth, take a pass.
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on January 9, 2014
I picked up A M Homes short story collection after seeing it on an earlier NY Times Notable Books of the Year list. I was quite impressed and found the stories to largely be interesting and in some cases head-turning. There are 11 stories in the collection and all focus on some aspect of domestic life. As with many short story collections, you probably have read some of these as they appeared in various magazines over the course of the 90s. Perhaps my favorite story centered around a woman who recovered from a serious accident and decided to attempt to impregnate herself by watching couples have sex and then collecting the used condoms, saving the sperm, and injecting into her body. Wow. You can hardly make something like that up yourself and it was an amazing story to read. Other stories explore the relationships between mothers and daughters and even one that hits quite close to the history buffs amongst you where a former President of the USA struggles with Alzheimer's as does his pretty and slender wife who takes care of him as he continues to fall further into a fog. A great collection that I highly recommend.
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on September 19, 2005
Dissatisfaction is the emotion experienced by most of the characters in this collection, but is also, unfortunately, the most likely reader response to the work.

Homes has undoubted talent, and most of the stories start well and have interesting themes. However, she doesn't seem to know where to go with many of the pieces, and the endings uniformly pack no punch at all, rather allowing the stories to peter out into forgettableness.

The two exceptions to this trend are 'Georgica', startling if only for its premise of a woman who inseminates herself using sperm found in used condoms (!), and the outstanding title story, in which all Homes' best absurdist traits are on show. Perhaps significantly, the latter is the shortest piece in the collection.

This is not a terrible book, and is probably worth about 2.5 stars, but how anyone could give it 5 is beyond me. One is tempted to recommend that those reviewers turn to some of the undisputed masters of the short form for greater delights than can be found here.
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on February 17, 2004
I'm a big A.M. Homes fan, and this is a terrible book. I'd love to read stories the way she used to write them, but they're not in here.
I heard Ms. Homes say at a reading that "Things You Should Know" was conceived to contain stories that all involve "shape-shifting" of some sort. The stories don't display her talent; they're boring. They're pretty bad, really. It reads as though she's coasting, now that she's become as famous as she is. I don't think anyone without a "name" would have got this book published. One of the stories, btw, is on the Nerve website, so you can have a free look.
She's uneven, I think. I used to refer to A.M. Homes as my favorite contemporary author. Now, I find her to be ubiquitous and mediocre. This book is perfect example of her mediocre writing. Ms. Homes, though, is marvellously talented. Read "Music For Torching" (my favorite) instead, if you haven't. Or "The Saftey of Objects" (my own 2nd favorite) or even "Jack." "In a Country of Mothers" is also easy to skip - her first (I'm pretty sure) and predictable from right near the beginning.
If you've not read Ms. Homes's work, I would definitely not start here. If you're a fan - go for it. I know I'll keep reading what she writes and keep watching her read - though it is becoming tiresome.
As an aside: she's rather unfriendly and pompous in person, a busy-looking-for-better-people-to-talk-to type. But, that's her prerogative. She's earned the right.
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on September 10, 2004
As is usually the case with Homes, these stories focus on discontented suburbanites. Mostly weaker men, stronger women. Some very good, if tough to read stories. As always, Homes's writing is quick-hitting. Especially as she deals with more serious topics: a husband and wife couple in which the woman's cancer is exposing the weaknesses in their relationship, the story of a man who hits and kills a kid with his car, and a story about Nancy and Ronald Reagan and dealing with his Alzheimer's. Overall, the stories were less outrageous than some of her other stuff, and several of them seemed to end with punch lines, which I didn't care for. But pretty good stuff otherwise.
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on May 25, 2006
No matter what the gender is, everyone acts irrationally in all of Homes' short stories. It is without rhyme or reason these characters exist to do whatever and to say whatnot. Each tale ends abruptly therefore it is up to the readers to compose their minds about each conclusion. Some are funny than others and all of them are quite bizarre. Extreme usage of adjectives and pronouns in narrating events among more than two people at one time can result in a mild confusion in regards to the actual speaker or doer. Nevertheless, it is a fast read of a collection of peculiar people and happenings.
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on May 22, 2012
I love the novels by A.M. Homes, and also like the short story collection "The Safety of Objects." But this one? Yuck! What happened? Either it was a rush job or she was just in a really foul mood when she wrote these stories, many of which are total head scratchers. If I wasn't puzzled I was totally repelled by the disagreeable characters in many of these stories. This collection was such a turnoff that I'll be thinking twice about reading anything else by her in the future. That's a shame, because I've enjoyed her novels very much, but there wasn't much of anything in here that was remotely enjoyable to read.
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on October 30, 2002
I feel a little sorry for people who think of themselves as intellectuals but don't know how to read a book. This is a collection of stories about how little we can ever be prepared for what life throws up in our faces, so it is logical that several characters have this common trait: the obsession with being prepared for what we can never prepare for. ...
There's an essential bluntness to Homes's writing. There always has been. She writes like a surgeon performing triage. She opens up her characters vulnerabilities for examination. And she has a wicked sense of humor. But her stories are the kind that will make some uncomfortable. Not everyone's cup of tea, but isn't that what writing literature is meant to be?
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VINE VOICEon October 2, 2002
Not for the delicate minded, A.M. Homes returns after a twelve year absence with a collection of short stories that show the human condition rubbed raw to the bone.These are not happy people, but so compelling in their various life crisis' that you can't help but feel like you're sucked into a vacuum. Two in particular are just plain brilliant: The first about a woman who's a shape shifter, and the second an imagined account of life for the former First Lady Nancy Reagan as she copes with her husbands alzheimer condition. These last two stories alone are worth the price of the book.
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VINE VOICEon January 7, 2003
A.M. Homes is a little warped--she's got a dark, twisted vision of contemporary life and that vision serves her well in this collection of short stories. At times she almost verges on science fiction, with people morphing into animals, but I believe she is at her best when simply pondering the intricacies and oddities of human relationships, which the bulk of these stories do quite well.
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