Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: May We Be Forgiven

Fans of A.M. Homes expect crazy situations and 180 degree plot turns. Her stories and novels are populated with pedophiles, gay parents, parents who casually use drugs and commit arson. Despite these odd casts of characters, at heart her protagonists are suburbanites, the people next door who you wave to each morning on your way to work, scarcely wondering why they are still unshaven in their robes. The passing reference to Cheever in May We Be Forgiven elicits delight that yes, that's the answer to the nagging question: who do these men remind you of?
May We Be Forgiven takes place over a year, following Harold Silver's complete disintegration of his life and his clumsy rebuilding. So much insanity occurs in the first fifty pages of this novel, it's impossible to imagine what could be left of the story to tell. That's Homes' talent though. Silver's struggles to regain a sense of normal while cultivating a life that, for him, is decidedly anything but, eclipse murder and mayhem. Silver is confused, he constantly muses about what is right, along the way picking up a ragtag team of misfits and orphans. He befriends a woman in a supermarket and ends up ingratiating himself in her life. He meets a woman online for casual encounters and finds himself at dinner with her family, husband included. His brother is in a mental health facility, then an experimental prison, and despite his brother's cruelty toward him, Harold visits him and sends him gifts. He's not perfect (see the reference to adultery above), but he strives to be a good man.
The novel progresses at breakneck speed. Homes accomplishes this through the use of short passages and lack of chapters. Without those large breaks, there isn't any natural stopping point for the reader, and the text gives the impression of an absurdly long short story. The increased pace heightens the reader's sense of urgency throughout the narrative. Even during passages when Harold conducts Nixon research (his passion and vocation), the tight writing insures that even history-phobes will read along without complaint.

Written acrobatics aside, these are characters not soon forgotten. Remove the incredible situations and plot lines and the characters alone carry the story. Combining the two is what makes this a distinct A. M. Homes work, and what makes it a must-read.

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