Review: May We Be Forgiven- A.M. Homes

‘How can I tell anyone that there has always lived within me a rusty sense of disgust-a dull, brackish water that I suspect is my soul?’

After reading glowing reviews in its first few pages and seeing that it won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013- topping Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies- I had to read this book.

What I found, and why the prize was so well deserved for Homes, was a dark satire of modern day America that I couldn’t put down.  Ok, there were a few minor things that were slightly annoying, but overall it was a brilliant read.

The novel is off to a fast start as it opens with a Thanksgiving dinner that sparks a devastating act further down the line.  Harold Silver, a historian and Nixon scholar becomes involved with his brother’s wife from that Thanksgiving night onwards. As his brother George has a violent and murderous temper which a history of violent behaviour, you can guess that the result is going to be pretty ugly.

George is confined, and the novel’s pacy start is suddenly slowed down; the initial excitement is over, but what we see afterwards is a story of character transformation- a story in which Harold and George must seek absolution, and a family trying to piece itself together after a horrific tragedy.

After such a fast start I wondered where Homes could go with the novel  but I needn’t have worried. I found that it was just completely bizarre and the story took you in all directions that you would not have guessed at; from drugs, sex and murder to swinger’s parties and a Bar Mitzvah in South Africa. Totally crazy. And yet it worked.

may we be forgiven

Homes’ cynicism and black humour of 21st century life is one of the things I enjoyed most about the novel. The author asks us do we really know each other and the world that we live in? Evidently not, as her black humour reveals that we are always placing ourselves in danger in this confusing, modern world. We ‘friend’ people on Facebook when we don’t even know who they are. We sleep with strangers and meet people on Internet dating sites. We think we know these people, and yet when it comes to our families there is no relationship- we don’t even know each other at all.

But as the novel goes on, you see its darkness and satirical humour slowly giving way to a sort of spiritual awakening. The characters transform and become better people than who they were at the beginning, pulling together to change the course of their future and make a difference to other people’s lives. Well, that is what I picked up from it anyway.

One small thing in which the plot didn’t really sit well with me was the Bar Mitzvah in South Africa. It felt that it was a personal experience that Homes had at some point in her life and she decided to fling it in there in an attempt to fit in with the novel.  It read too fast, the characters were there one minute experiencing a culture so different to their own, before suddenly being back in their middle class suburban home the next.

The dinner at the end of the story was also a bit unbelievable. All the fundamental characters got together for another Thanksgiving and it seemed that everyone was one big happy family- a little bit too unrealistic and well exaggerated, given all the events- both major and minor- that took place in the novel. Again, this was maybe Homes’ plan to show the character changes that had took place throughout the course of the book and that by the end, they had eventually received absolution and understanding of each other.

But its dark humour, sharp characterisation and totally bizarre plot made for a very interesting and gripping read about contemporary America and its families.

Rating: 3/5

Do I recommend you to read it? Yes

Genre: satire, contemporary fiction