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May We Be Forgiven: A Novel by A. M. Homes
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May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by A. M. Homes

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4723521,787 (3.61)109
Member:freetrader
Title:May We Be Forgiven: A Novel
Authors:A. M. Homes
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Edition: First Printing, Hardcover, 496 pages
Collections:To Reread/Same Author, Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:fiction, r2012, astrid, candidate

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May We Be forgiven by A. M. Homes (2012)

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English (32)  Dutch (3)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
As I was reading [May we be forgiven] I kept expecting the worst to happen, but actually the best always happens. I'm really pleased to have read it - someone else commented that it is hyper-realism, maybe, but that didn't spoil it for me. It was about kindness and redemption. ( )
  tandah | Mar 23, 2014 |
The book seems to be written as one very long conversation with Harry Silver, or perhaps, as if the reader is a voyeur, looking over Harry’s shoulder as he writes in his diary. Ordinary, everyday events are memorialized down to the tiniest detail, and sometimes it is funny enough to make you laugh out loud. Sometimes you might just chuckle softly, kind of under your breath as a subtle remark about something very commonplace, suddenly hits home.
Harry Silver seems to be a “wrong way Corrigan” kind of a guy. His decisions are often foolhardy and his efforts often fail. The quieter of two siblings, his bully of a brother often took advantage, forcing Harry into the background, perhaps to survive. He chose a quiet professorial life while his younger sibling became successful as an executive in the field of entertainment. Life went on quietly, largely without ripples, until the day his sister-in-law, Jane, unexpectedly and without provocation, seemed to come on to him. This incident, dismissed by Harry’s wife when he confessed, since she assumed no one would make a pass at him, precipitated traumatic events which would change the future for all of them. Out of the depths of despair a phoenix would rise, as Harry steps into the fray to handle the monumental tasks facing him. He assumed the care of his brother’s children, he tended to the needs of an orphaned child, he assisted an elderly couple, even as the pattern of his own life unraveled around him. He found time for everyone, and he even came out of his shell engaging in a social life of sorts.
Harry was a childless man in a fairly emotionless marriage with few close relationships. Perceived as a nebbish, the under-achieving brother of his successful, but loud-mouthed sibling, George, who for all intents and purposes led an idyllic life, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, Harry was forced to take a backseat. George lived in the lap of luxury. He was the father of two children, a boy and a girl, 12 and 11, had a wonderful wife, and even a dog and a cat. Everything was not as it seemed on the surface, however, and all of George’s idyllic life would come to an end when he suffered some type of a breakdown which drove him to do strange things and behave even more forcefully and aggressively than he had in his past. The very personality which brought him success and influential relationships would be his downfall.
Harry steps in to save the day and repent for his part in the disassembling of the family. For awhile, it even seemed as if Harry was morphing into George, wearing his clothes, caring for his children, living in his house, tending to his garden. He busied himself with everyday chores and the writing of his book on Nixon, of whom he was a conflicted devotee. In most ways, George and his brother were opposites, but by the end of the novel, we will see Harry grow, taking the more assertive nature of George and marrying it to his own kinder, gentler self. Without his brother’s intimidating presence in his life, he rose to the task and found simple solutions to problems, where none seemed obvious before. He accepted what came his way and made the best of all situations by setting up easy to follow guidelines without being judgmental or threatening.
From the minutest detail to the most interesting tidbits, Harry regales the reader with facts about his daily life, some of which sometimes seem a bit too tedious. He relates every moment of his life, conversations, and relationships. The narrative runs on and on, as do his thoughts. Enhancing this feeling of continuity, in the tension of everyday life, is the obvious lack of chapters to divide the narrative. There is no comfortable place to really pause and take a breath. I think for a certain reader, this could be problematic. However, if one sticks to it, this book will have you laughing out loud, and wherever you find yourself reading it, you might occasionally, if in public, glance self-consciously around to see if anyone has noticed your sudden outburst of mirth. From the chuckle to the guffaw, with its ups and downs, this book is an inspirational ride.
At first Harry reminded me a little of L’il Abner’s character, Joe Btfsplk, the character who always had storm clouds hovering over his head, who could not win for losing, as the saying goes. However, the reader will enjoy growing with the main character as he changes from Willy Loman and Job, to somewhat of a Superman, making lemonade from a plate of lemons. The time frame of the book will be very nostalgic for people of a certain age who remember Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, Daniel Elsberg, Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman”, among the other memorable historic moments and personalities mentioned throughout the book. It harkens back to memories of a not so distant past, perhaps to the silent majority of which Harry could surely count himself as a young man. He was not a troublemaker, but rather an investigator, a researcher, a thinker. He is far brighter than he was given credit for and he surprises himself, often enough. His life was a comedy of errors and foolish choices, with an over-simplistic view of his prospects, until he blossomed.
It is easy to read, often humorous, even while witnessing the Harry’s emotionless reactions, as he travels through the days of his life. He barely reacts or seems to feel. He is not in touch with passion or joy, but rather coasts through life, complacently. This will all change and it will be a pleasure for the reader to take the ride down life’s lanes with him. It is well written, grabs you and draws you right in, making you want to return, even when it becomes tedious with specific description. As I neared the end, I had some misgivings. Would the conclusion be as flat as the narrative, lacking true feeling, with a hint of the message, “to be continued”? As a reader, each of us will have to decide if the book ended satisfactorily. For me there were some unanswered questions, but, still I very much enjoyed the book. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Mar 19, 2014 |
A M Homes. May We Be Forgiven.

This a dark and disturbing indictment of the American dream−a questioning of what is actually important for the psyche of the nation and what is being lost from up on high, i.e. Nixon onwards, as well as nuclear family values.

The questioning comes from the point of view of the dysfunctional (or are they functional?) POV Harold Silver, which I found fascinating as you are never explicitly told what is wrong with him, and what is residual from his own upbringing. There are ten main personality disorders and he spans a few of them, which is less than his brother that kills his wife and leaves Harry with their kids.

I felt the humour could have been funnier in parts and that would be my only criticism−although those people that recommended this as my first Homes book do not agree.
This book is clever and sometimes so subtle and understated you can easily miss it−I went and reread bits.
Here is the clincher for me. I always finish a book I start, and if it gets to the last 100 pages and I feel I have to lock myself away so other ‘dysfunctionals’ don’t disturb me, I know it is a great book−This was the case here−so I did not need to deliberate long how many stars to awarded it.

If you like dysfunction that casts a quizzical eye over society−what most consider normal, this is for you. The unexpected bizarre events in this book really shouldn’t work−but they do, that is clever in itself. At no point did I feel they were caricatures.

thewritingIMP ( )
  IanMPindar | Feb 19, 2014 |
Too many stories that didn't go anywhere....for example, what happened to George? The contrast between the American dream in Nixon's time and today is another theme insufficienty explores. Too over-the-top for my taste....for example, Nateville. Really?? ( )
  LynnB | Feb 1, 2014 |
Tuesday. 1am:
3 stars would be unfair, so this is really 3 and a half. A brilliant last 100 pages really made up for the animosity I was feeling towards the books central characters and themes. Will review fully when I've slept on it....

Tuesday. 6pm: ...So. I've slept on it and knocked it back down to 3/5, purely for the fact that I found a third of this novel infuriating, and here's why.

Harry is the older brother of the bullying, violent, egotistical TV executive George and the book opens as he and his Asian wife (the first of the sickening borderline racist stereotypes) are visiting his house for Thanksgiving. And from there on in it all goes wrong. In the first 50 pages we're presented with an amazing series of events culminating in tragedy that affects everyone around them. No matter how hard Harry tries to make amends for his 'bad deed' he's constantly either screwing it up, or just adding to his woes. The problem is, Harry is such a child that in the beginning, his inability to grow up hampers everything, resulting in a spiral towards internet hook-ups for sex, picking up a very strange girl and taking her home...for sex (for such a loser, Harry does get around a bit) and then there's the self-medicating anything and everything he can get his hands on, causing a major health alert in the first half of the book.
But eventually, the responsibility he is forced to take on in the form of his niece and nephew, give Harry a massive wake-up call and he starts to face up to what he's done and his journey to redemption begins.
It's a long journey too, during which his work as a Nixon scholar and author takes him closer to the disgraced President than he thought he would get. His re-evaluation of Nixon causes Harry to also look at his own life, work and what he actually needs in this World as opposed to what the American Dream is telling him he needs. Sometimes the Nixon analogies get in the way and Homes lays the satire on a bit thick. It's also annoying as that sub-plot means another showing for the clipped Asian accents-I'm all for realism, but when it's used to voice a character who was born in the US, achieved a high standard of education and is hired to work with the printed word, it's lazy and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth as you read it.
When it comes to the supporting characters, several are definitely surplus to requirements, as are a few of the bizarre scenarios that Harry finds himself involved in (and readers will know exactly what I mean when I say 'The Woodsman'...why Homes...why?) and I felt this dragged the narrative about Harry's journey down. Also, for a novel so grounded in the harsh realities of life (no matter how daft, they do happen) the two instances of 'magic' jar and are out of place; whilst one is an understandable metaphorical narrative device, the other is forced.

As a commentary on all that's wrong with the Western world, it works well: can't solve your problems-take medication, the key to happiness is a massive tv, elderly and those with mental health problems either locked away and forgotten about or treated like lab rats, the threat of bad publicity worse than the welfare of an 11 yr old girl and Homes weaves these opinions into the story well.

Other reviewers have commented on the novel's almost 'Disneyesque' ending and while I can see their point, I did kind of like it: hasn't everyone got an Aunt Lillian, totally devoid of tact, opening her mouth and saying just the wrong thing at the wrong moment?

Without giving too much away, Harry's redemption is hard-earned, but well-deserved, if only it was better edited and with less of the 'Mickey Rooney School of Asian Depiction'. ( )
1 vote Kate_Ward | Nov 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)


Almost exactly three-quarters of the way through this wonderful, wild, heartbreaking, hilarious and astonishing novel, A M Homes gives us this paragraph: "And then – the real craziness starts. Later, I will wonder if this part really happened or if I dreamed it."

Given the huge amount of craziness in the 355 pages that precedes that paragraph, this really sets the reader up for a humdinger of a finale, one that Homes delivers with aplomb.....This is a piercing, perceptive and deeply funny novel about the nature of life, and about finding your family wherever you can, wherever you get comfort and something approaching love.
 
The narrative is unrelenting, and yet it makes a kind of sense that all these troubles should be brought to bear on a few individuals. What’s interesting about this book is that for all its ferocious now-ness, its messages are old fashioned. Peace is found in a South African village, amongst community and participation; acts of kindness bring their own rewards. Homes, however, is not a pious or a schmaltzy writer – she is aware that things are compromised, as when George’s son Nate realises that the South African villagers he’s been supporting are really only interested in what material goods they can buy. But this doesn’t detract from the morality of the book’s core. Only connect, Homes tells us, and we can escape the nightmare of the 21st century – if only for a while. .....AM Homes’s ambitious novel, May We Be Forgiven, impresses.
 
To pair sociological sweep with psychological intimacy, as this book sets out to do, is a laudable ambition. It may even be where the vital center of American fiction is, circa 2012. But Homes hasn’t yet developed the formal vocabulary to reconcile her Cheever side and her DeLillo side. Instead, they end up licensing each other’s failures, canceling each other out. And so what might have been a stereoscopic view of The Way We Live Now ends as an ungainly portmanteau: a picaresque in which nothing much happens, a confession we can’t quite believe, a satire whose targets are already dead.
 
And the novel is consistently interesting in more sombre ways, too, as when Harry discusses the "rusty sense of disgust" that he suspects might be his soul. May We Be Forgiven is a semi-serious, semi-effective, semi-brilliant novel which could not be called, overall, an artistic success. But you'd have to have no sense of the absurd, and no sense of humour, not to be pretty impressed.
 
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For Claudia to whom I owe a debt of gratitude
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Do you want my recipe for disaster?
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Book description
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 the 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 - hilariously -
down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, and dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. Never having realized he was lost, he slowly starts to open up to the world around him, to rise to the occasion and take some risks. As Harry builds a new life and a modern family created by choice rather than biology, we become aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and compel us to either repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.
In this bold, playful, tenderhearted, and redemptive novel, by turns rollicking and serious and filled with all of her signature touches and flourishes, A.M. Homes digs deeply into themes of the American family, the near biblical intensity of fraternal relationships, our need to make sense of things, and our craving for connection. 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.
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Feeling overshadowed by his more-successful younger brother, Harold is shocked by his brother's violent act that irrevocably changes their lives, placing Harold in the role of father figure to his brother's adolescent children and caregiver to his aging parents.… (more)

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