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. Read more...
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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 both 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 down the rabbit hole of Internet sex, dealing with aging parents who move through time like travelers on a fantastic voyage. As Harry builds a twenty-first-century family created by choice rather than biology, we become all the more aware of the ways in which our history, both personal and political, can become our destiny and either compel us to repeat our errors or be the catalyst for change.
"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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-08-13
- Reviewer: Staff
It’s difficult to keep track of the number of awful things that happen to Harold Silver in the first 100 pages of Homes’s plodding latest novel. It is equally difficult to care that these things happen to him. Harold’s brother, whose anger problem is alluded to but never explicitly mentioned, goes crazy and murders his wife, among other acts of cruelty. In the wake of this tragedy, Harold is made legal guardian of his brother’s children. Harold’s life continues to unravel as he gets a divorce, loses his job, begins online dating, and endures many other crises that require intense self-reflection. Harold eventually triumphs over his various problems, evolving into the loving, supportive, and thoughtful man he’s never been, but the process feels forced, implausible, and overwrought. While Homes (The Mistress’s Daughter) successfully creates a convincing male protagonist, everything else about Harold’s story fails to persuade. If the reader was given a better sense of who Harold was before his life fell apart, we might be more invested in who he later becomes. The novel suffers from Homes’s insistence on having Harold’s life continually move from bad to worse, forgetting that sometimes less is more. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wiley Agency. (Oct.)
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.