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May We Be Forgiven: A Novel by A. M. Homes

May We Be Forgiven: A Novel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by A. M. Homes

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5274119,152 (3.64)113
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
Tags:fiction, r2012, astrid, candidate

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


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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
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 | Aug 21, 2014 |
An oddly enjoyable read, if rather disjointed. Jet-black comedy at the start, soft satire in the middle and, in the end, a schmaltzy ode to family. The book borrows from White Noise - Don DeLillo even has a few cameos - but, where that novel is filled with a sense of dread, this is a dementedly uplifting tragedy. ( )
  alexrichman | Aug 13, 2014 |
I am so glad to finish this book, it was starting to bore me.
It was too busy, to jewish and to many references to Richard Nixon.
I didnt find the characters believable and didnt really like them.
I so wanted to enjoy this book but I didn't it was a relief to finish it. ( )
  Daftboy1 | Jul 31, 2014 |
In a recent interview with Jeanette Winterson for the Guardian, A.M. Homes discusses her latest novel, May We Be Forgiven, in the context of other novels written by women, and also in the context of a phrase Winterson levels at the novel: the great American novel. While Homes did win the 2013 women’s fiction prize—the Orange, now Baileys Prize—for this novel, and while it does signal a shift in recognition for novels by women (e.g., her narrator is male, and, as she says in the interview linked above, a woman is murdered in the first sections by her husband), the novel itself falls flat for several reasons.

I was prepared to love this novel, not from the praise heaped upon it or Homes’s recent win, but because the opening sections were so filled with wit, dark humor, and got at the pathos of suburban American life and its bourgeois discontents in a way that was reminiscent of the work of filmmaker Todd Solondz, whose own work shares similar themes and concerns with Homes’s. 

However, after about one-fourth of the way through, We May Be Forgiven starts to lose its parodic force: in reading, I wondered if I had just become immune to the gallows humor and sly social criticism evident in the opening pages because Homes was that talented. And, in fact, she is an extraordinarily talented writer: there is one scene, for example, where the narrator, a Nixon scholar, gives a closing speech (a kind of last performance of his career) to his students, and the mixture of Nixon’s own resignation speech with a sort of neo-Conservatism often blamed covertly in the novel as a flaw to be reckoned with in contemporary American, is almost the narrator’s own conflict in microcosm.

What causes the novel to lose steam is that it relies too much on plot as a driving force: a picaresque narrative that at first encapsulates all that ails America today—the pills in the medicine cabinets; the “fact” of reality television; the psychiatrists’ offices in strip malls next to smoothie shops and dollar stores—but which requires more and more elements to be added in order to move the narrator toward the denouement. One can certainly appreciate what Homes offers here, but the novel begins to become so episodic (with increasingly more “quirks” added, many of which seem to come out of left field) that the more interesting dissection of the bourgeois mindset with which she begins May We Be Forgiven becomes submerged beneath a lot of plot ends that require stitching up, instead of a more exuberant analysis of social issues as it seems to promise from its opening pages.

And this could well be part of what Homes is getting at. I did read a few reviews that say the constant mention of the American dream by the narrator was somehow Homes’s attempt to force readers to acknowledge her novel as part of the tradition of the great American novel. (Her Guardian interview could be read in either light on this question, but her responses to how gendered literature has become are definitely relevant and raise poignant points.) This is a novel that deals a lot with race and class issues, but, as the narrator is a white man, the world we are allowed access to is a privileged one only. Indeed, as one character asks of the narrator:What do you have to cry about? You are a big white guy with a big house.I do not think that Homes’s novel is a racist one: there is at least one review on Goodreads that claims this is the case. If it is indeed true, then the novel is also misogynistic, but it was written by a woman, so is this really what’s going on here? Instead, the narrator himself is bringing up very complex points about embedded sexism and cultural/racial privilege that are widespread (even if unconscious) in America today. However, Homes does little to carry these points toward a climax that is satisfying, and many of the people of color remain on the margins of the narrative—much as they’re required to keep it going—and are presented in cliched ways through our more privileged narrator’s eyes.

There is a lot here: indeed, as Winterson says in her interview, everything is here, all of the major issues one would expect in a novel of this size and of such thematic scope. But the execution is less acute than one is led to expect in the beginning pages, pages of such brilliance and with so much at work under the frigid surface that it’s truly a wonder to read. Although Homes does come back full circle at the end to the power on display at the start of the novel, it is only after a convoluted journey which, it’s true, is somehow required for the narrator’s growth, but which causes the insightful and incisive social commentary to get buried beneath swingers’ parties, scandals at boarding schools, the birth of kittens, a trip to South Africa, and many other haphazard plot points that stretch the narrative far beyond the controlled critiques at work toward the start.

3.5 stars ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
How do adults and children rebound from a catastrophe? That's what concerns a very diverse group of people who form a new family in response to what life does to them. We are with these characters for a year, and it is Homes' gift that we, the readers, join the family as well. This is book that incorporates what might be called American magical realism, like The World According to Garp. As in that classic, you suspend your disbelief and accept the novel because it has such joy and love in it (as well as violence and pain). The wild card here is the lead character's fascination with Richard M. Nixon. You rejoice as you watch these men, women, and children grow up a great deal in 365 days. New love comforts the loss of old, and by the book's conclusion, you are pretty sure that nearly everyone has learned critical lessons that will enable them to live satsfying and moral lives. ( )
  neddludd | May 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (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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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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