Monday, February 3, 2014

May We Be Forgiven by A. M. Holmes, A Review

To be honest, I have no idea how to review this book. I feel like my review will be hard to follow and disjointed, but frankly I found the book hard to follow and disjointed.

The verbiage on the back listed it as a "darkly comic look at twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation." My understanding of "darkly comic" must be skewed, because there were many moments in the book where it was just dark, and if what I viewed as dark, "they" viewed as comic, my humor meter must be broken.

With that said, it was not an all bad book. In fact, I find myself thinking about the protagonist Harold Silver and his obsession with President Nixon from time to time. The story arc traces the downfall of his brother's family (George Silver and his wife Jane and their two self-righteous, but sometimes well-adjusted, children, and of course, the family dog - anyone else want to sing the Jetson's tune to this parenthetical enclosure?) and his own and how they will rebuild this again. It's just the interim that ate me alive.

We open on Thanksgiving and close on Thanksgiving. I suppose within the context of the novel beginning and ending with thanks is the way to go, but the journey of a year in which Harold Silver must assume all adult and mentor roles in the life of his older brother and his brother's children is disturbing at best. The book is a series of tumultuous happenings that seem to attack George, then Harold, then George, then Jane, then Harold, then Claire, and then Harold and George and Harold and George. Throw in the kids from time to time, and an event or two for the pets and that's the plot. I'm not sure if there was some award within this family for the person that can suffer the most in the most twisted ways, but if there was - the brothers are neck and neck for the title. I did feel heartbreak many times though as these episode plagued their lives; particularly for Nate, the eldest child as his family attempts to overcome a true tearing asunder. His character kept a high level of compassion and generosity as he grieved the loss in his home and helped his sister grieve, too.

By the end of the novel, Harry has become a respectable man doing right by not only his brother's children, but the child rendered an orphan by his brother's carelessness, an elderly couple he inherits from dating a crazy woman, a new father for his somewhat senile mother, and I believe a cat. The idea of personal transformation does in fact happen for Harold Silver and I guess this is the domestic bliss in the end that people crave. I assume this is the answer to the question of forgiveness: Yes, you may.

The writing is excellent - well developed and free with relevant, even gratuitous language and dialogue. I found myself a little surprised that this novel won the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction because of the graphic nature of the text, but in a world where erotica is selling, I guess a book with moments of it interspersed amid a family trying to recover from a tragedy isn't a far reach.

For me, this book didn't hit home. I found the constant barrage of conflict a bit contrived, and at times, almost predictable. I've not read any other work by A. M. Holmes, and this book will most likely not send me looking for it. However, my hat is always still off the author - may your creativity continue to thrive.

Happy reading.

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