Constructing a patchwork American family
Inadvertent culpability. Suburban insanity. Personal and familial redemption. Such are the subjects of A.M. Homes’ ambitious, sprawling and nearly Dickensian new novel that follows one middle-aged, middle-class man from bad to worse to renewed, and everywhere in between.
May We Be Forgiven opens with a series of unfortunate events. George Silver, a widely loathed television executive, flies off the handle after a deadly car accident. Harry Silver, a Nixon scholar with less money and success than his brother, finds himself not only embroiled in the drama, but also entwined emotionally and sexually with George’s gorgeous wife, Jane—that is, until George comes home and bludgeons her to death with a table lamp.
And that’s when things really get crazy. Homes—never one to shy from unpleasant situations—takes these brothers’ bad deeds as her starting point, and Harry’s circuitous quest for forgiveness as the book’s core. Abandoned by his shrewish wife and saddled with the care of George’s two precocious children, Harry moves into his brother’s Westchester home and begins to build a brand new life. This process, it turns out, is as hilarious as it is wrenching. Think kleptomaniac great aunts, Internet sexcapades with lonely housewives and a covert mission to recover Richard Nixon’s lost short-story collection.
In many ways, Nixon and the failed American dream form the cheeky subtext of this novel: The house, the wife, the kids are an outmoded myth, and even when good men try, they come up short. This said, Homes is also up to something sneakier and more redemptive with her madcap antics. By seeking to do good in the lives of others, she seems to say, and by cobbling together a different version of the nuclear family, we can heal ourselves.
Such issues might seem weighty, but Homes is never didactic—a balance she achieves with the sheer strangeness and deadpan nature of her tale. Indeed, one never can predict what’s going to happen next. In a less capable writer’s hands, this spiraling and volatility might feel disorienting. But with Homes at the helm, you can’t help but be delighted by the ride.
RELATED CONTENT: Our Q&A with Homes about May We Be Forgiven.