“May We Be Forgiven” by A. M. Homes

“May We Be Forgiven” by A. M. Homes (2013) – 480 pages

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What to make of  “May We Be Forgiven”? This is a roller coaster, not at all your traditional novel.  I’ve seen it compared to “The World According to Garp” by John Irving, the stories of John Cheever, the more twisted works of Philip Roth like “Portnoy’s Complaint” or “Sabbath’s Theater”, and the Simpsons.  However A. M. Homes lets the cat out of the bag as to influence on the bottom of page 339.

Coming out of one of the stores, I spot Don DeLillo.  Our eyes meet; he looks at me as if to ask, What are you staring at?

“I see you everywhere I go.”

“I live here,” he says.

“My apologies, I’m a big fan.”  He nods but says nothing.  “Hey, can I ask you a question?”  He doesn’t say yes, he doesn’t say no.  “Do you think Nixon was in on the JFK assassination?”  DeLillo looks at me with a grim snakelike grin.  “Interesting question,” he says and walks away.

 Yes, Don DeLillo lives in “May We Be Forgiven”, although the above few lines are his only appearance as a character in the novel.

The main character in “May We Be Forgiven” is Harry Silver. In the beginning Harry and his wife Claire have Thanksgiving at the home of his TV executive brother George.  During the dinner cleanup, George’s wife Jane shows her attraction for Harry by planting him with a kiss.  A few months later George has a car accident that kills two people and puts him in the hospital.  Harry moves into George’s house temporarily to help.  Harry and Jane wind up in bed together, but one night George sneaks out of the hospital, comes home to find the two in bed,  and smashes a lamp into Jane’s head killing her.

And that is just the first few pages…

The wild frenetic whirlwind pace of these first few pages continues throughout as George is put into a mental institution and Claire divorces Harry, and Harry moves into George’s house to take care of George and Jane’s kids Nate and Ashley.  One crazy event is piled on top of another sick episode on top of another ridiculous adventure.  I found myself thinking those famous words of Shakespeare, that the novel was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Most novels have a point to make, but in “May We Be Forgiven” all this stuff happens to little meaningful effect

 There is a world out there, so new, so random and disassociated.

 Some of the scenes in this novel are brilliant like George’s stay in a surreal paramilitary outdoor mental facility and Nate’s South African Bar Mitzvah.  You keep reading; this is a quick read despite its long length.  There is an interesting subplot involving some short stories that Richard Nixon supposedly wrote, just the kind of thing Don DeLillo might have put in one of his novels.

“May We Be Forgiven” is so wild and shaggy, so off the wall, I will not attempt to wrap it up in a nice neat little package.  If you read it, you will probably get angry at the author at times like I did, but you will probably keep reading.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. […] about this one, IMO.) How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti May We Be Forgiven, by A.M. Homes, see Tony’s review at Tony’s Book World Flight Behaviour, by Barbara Kingsolver The Red Book, by Deborah Copaken Kogan Bring Up the Bodies, […]

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  2. Nice review:) This is one that I will pick up if I see it at the library, but not seek out. Insignificant sound and fury seems like a bit of a waste of printer’s ink to me, but sometimes playing with form is fun for its own sake…
    I’ve added a link to your review on my post about the long-list:)

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I hope my ambivalence on this novel was apparent. It wasn’t that pleasant an experience while I was reading it, but I suspect my opinion of the novel will improve as I think about it over the next few months. Sometimes I get sick of too traditional novels and want something different, and this was certainly different.

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      • Oh yes, your ambivalence reminded me of the many reviews I saw about that book that won a major prize, the one with a PowerPoint slide show in it, I can’t remember its name. Sometimes we can admire a book even if we don’t like it very much.

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        • Yes, I remember the novel with the long Power Point presentation. I actually read it, I believe it was “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, which made quite a splash in the US.

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  3. Tony, I loved this fascinating book, and you’re the first blogger I’ve read on it. (Though somebody else must have written about it.) It is a roller coaster: the tone reminded me slightly of some of Brett Easton Ellis’s work (Glamorama), though Homes is ultimately moving, and more realistic.

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    • Hi Kat,
      I wouldn’t have expected you would be a big fan of A. M. Homes; she’s certainly not Middlebrow. Somehow I’ve never read Brett Easton Ellis, maybe his next book. “Forgiven” was my first foray into Homes territory

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