May We Be Forgiven

By A.M. Homes

(Penguin, $27.95, 496 pages)

Who is this author?

A.M. Homes (the “A” is for Amy) has taught creative writing at such universities as Columbia and Princeton, lives in New York City and is an author of novels and short stories as well as a journalist. She is also, it seems, quite the provocateur, as shown by the outraged response to her very controversial 1996 novel, “The End of Alice,” whose narrator was a convicted child molester and murderer: a voice many readers found tough to take. She also has written the memoir “The Mistress’s Daughter,” and her other works include “This Book Will Change Your Life,” “Music For Torching,” and “The Safety of Objects.” Her latest novel, which is her first work of fiction in six years, is “May We Be Forgiven,” about an unhappy family unlike any you have ever encountered. And she will give a free talk about her book tonight, Nov. 13,  at 6:30 p.m. at the Center for Contemporary Culture at the Downtown Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St., Hartford.

 What is this book about?

Brotherly love, or more accurately, brotherly hate. Harry is the elder of the two, a historian whose specialty is the life of President Richard Nixon. George is the younger, handsomer, richer, more successful sibling – he’s a TV exec — and also the possessor of a violent, often out-of-control temper, which gets the better of him and destroys the entire family, at least at first. It’s left to Harry to pick up the pieces, make a home with George’s pre-teenage kids in his brother’s mansion, get involved with women via the Internet, deal with the aging parents of one of his cyber-lovers, befriend the owners of a Chinese restaurant and a deli and discover fiction written by the disgraced president, all while creating a new and unlikely kind of family. And you think you’ve had stress in your life!

Why you’ll like it:

If words such as “unnerving” signal to you that a book is intriguing, then Homes’ latest should pique your curiosity. Although she delves into deeply disturbing territory, she does this with considerable humor, which makes the grimness palatable. Here’s what author Salman Rushdie has said about “May We Be Forgiven: “This novel starts at maximum force — and then it really gets going. I can’t remember when I last read a novel of such narrative intensity; an unflinching account of a catastrophic, violent, black-comic, transformative year in the history of one broken American family. Flat-out amazing.” That’s enough to get me reaching for this book.

What others are saying:

“An entertaining, old-fashioned American story about second chances…A.M. Homes is a writer I’ll pretty much follow anywhere because she’s indeed so smart, it’s scary; yet she’s not without heart…”May We Be Forgiven” [is] deeply imbued with the kind of “It’s A Wonderful Life”-type belief in redemption that we Americans will always be suckers for, and rightly so,” says Maureen Corrigan on “Fresh Air.”

 “Cheever country with a black comedy upgrade…Homes crams a tremendous amount of ambition into “May We Be Forgiven”, with its dark humor, its careening plot, its sex-strewn suburb and a massive cast of memorable characters…its riskiest content, however, is something different: sentiment. This is a Tin Man story, in which the zoned-out Harry slowly grows a heart,” says Carolyn Kellogg in The Los Angeles Times.

“Darkly funny…the moments shared between this ad hoc family are the novel’s most endearing…Homes’ signature trait is a fearless inclination to torment her characters and render their failures, believing that the reader is sophisticated enough – and forgiving enough – to tag along,” says Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Time Magazine.

“At once tender and uproariously funny…one of the strangest, most miraculous journeys in recent fiction, not unlike a man swimming home to his lonely house, one swimming pool at a time:  it is an act of desperation turned into one of grace,”  says John Freeman in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Heartfelt, and hilarious…Although Homes weaves in piercing satire on subjects like healthcare, education, and the prison system, her tone never veers into the overly arch, mostly thanks to Harold – a loveably earnest guy who creates his own kind of oddball, 21st century family,”  says Leigh Newman in O The Oprah Magazine

When is it available?

Homes’ latest is now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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