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Cover image for May we be forgiven
May we be forgiven
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2012.
Physical Description:
480 pages ; 24 cm
Feeling overshadowed by his more-successful younger brother, Harold is shocked by his brother's violent act that irrevocably changes their lives, placing Harold in the role of father figure to his brother's adolescent children and caregiver to his aging parents.


Call Number
Homes, A.

On Order



Winner of the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction--A darkly comic novel of twenty-first-century domestic life and the possibility of personal transformation

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. 

Author Notes

A. M. Homes is the author of the memoir The Mistress's Daughter and the novels This Book Will Save Your Life, Music for Torching, The End of Alice, In a Country of Mothers, and Jack, as well as the story collections The Safety of Objects and Things You Should Know . She lives in New York City.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

After a grim foray into memoir, Homes (The Mistress's Daughter, 2007, etc.) returns to fiction with the tale of a beleaguered history professor. A relentless series of shocks rattles hapless narrator Harry Silver. First, his brutal younger brother, odious TV executive George, kills two people in a car crash and is committed to the local hospital's psych ward. Three nights later, George returns to find Harry in bed with George's wife, Jane, and smashes her over the head with a lamp. George is whisked off to a mental institution, brain-damaged Jane dies in the hospital, and Harry winds up as reluctant guardian of 12-year-old Nate and 11-year-old Ashley. His wife launches divorce proceedings, he loses his job, and he has a stroke. Even Richard Nixon, longtime subject of Harold's research, didn't have many months worse than this. Living in his brother's Westchester mansion and having sex with women he meets via the Internet, Harry succumbs to despair. He's adrift in a world "so new, so random and disassociated that it puts us all in danger. We talk online, we 'friend' each other.We mistake almost anything for a relationship." Yet, Harry does build an oddball community with his niece and nephew, the son of the couple George killed, the elderly parents of one of his sex partners, the owners of his favorite Westchester Chinese restaurant and the family that runs a deli across the street from the Manhattan law firm where he's reading Nixon's previously unknown fiction--made available to Harry by Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the cousin-in-law of another sex partner. They all come together (except Julie) in the novel's closing pages, which contrast their peaceful, happy Thanksgiving with the tense holiday a year earlier that foreshadowed Harry's woes. The formula of shock treatment followed by sentimental affirmation was fresher in Homes' Music for Torching (1999) and This Book Will Save Your Life (2006), and it's hard to take seriously social commentary grounded in such bizarre particulars.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Incisive, funny, and commanding, Homes broke new ground in her last novel, This Book Will Save Your Life (2006). She continues in the same philosophical and stylistic vein in this eventful family tragicomedy set in New York's Westchester County and ignited by an epic, even biblical battle between two brothers in a Jewish family rife with feuds and subterfuge. George is a successful, arrogant, and bullying television executive with a lonely wife and exceptionally smart, sensitive children. Historian Harry endures a chilly, childless marriage, cocooned within his scholarly obsession with Richard Nixon. Resentments boil over, horrific violence ensues, and Harry finds himself in an endless free fall, struggling to be a good parent to his nephew and niece while entangling himself in scary if hilarious Internet-initiated sexual predicaments. Homes sends her magnetic characters on a wild, mordantly comic, deeply moving odyssey through a shopping mall, nursing home, the wilderness, schools, an amusement park, a South African village, and a lawyer's office, where Harry reads an astonishing, newly discovered Nixon archive. In this frenetic, insightful, and complexly moral novel of a man transformed by crisis, Homes dramatizes hubris and greed, alienation and spirituality, improvised families, and justice in our age of smart phones, dumbed-down education, and bankrupt culture.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

FOR a while there, in the middle of the last century, New York's northern suburbs were something like the literary capital of the country. The novels of Richard Yates and the stories of John Cheever reimagined Westchester County as a mythic landscape to rival Yoknapatawpha, and the rider of the Metro-North as a prism for American yearning and unease. Then the '60s came along and scrambled the cultural map. But the Westchester mystique persists, in "Mad Men" and men's wear - and in much of A. M. Homes's best fiction. Homes's 1999 novel "Music for Torching" used weekday commutes and weekend barbecues as foils for all manner of private compulsion. It was a sequel of sorts to her breakout collection, "The Safety of Objects," wherein Cheever's "Sorrows of Gin" became the sorrows of the crack pipe. If, more recently, Homes has drifted toward the West Coast, her new novel, "May We Be Forgiven," returns to Cheeverville with a vengeance. The mundane ripens into elegy; late afternoon is "the slow part of the day, when everything seems to hang unfinished in midair, until cocktails can be poured." At one point we even glimpse "the ghost of John Cheever going out for a ride." But another Westchester luminary is equally on Homes's mind. He pops up early, outside a Starbucks - a man who "looks familiar, a cross between a guy who might change your flat and Clint Eastwood." It is, the narrator realizes, Don DeLillo. It's possible to read too much into these cameos. "May We Be Forgiven" is nothing if not capacious, and it also alludes to the literary theorist Gayatri Spivak and, via "the firm of Herzog, Henderson & March," Saul Bellow. Still, as physical presences in the text, DeLillo and Cheever stand out. And where Homes's early work traded on the dissonance between the former's Kulturkritik and the latter's introspection, "May We Be Forgiven" fumbles toward harmony. The narrator, Harry Silver, is a professor of "Nixonology" - a figurative cousin to Jack Gladney, the "Hitler studies" scholar in DeLillo's "White Noise." In silent musings and classroom lectures, Harry envisions Nixon as a sort of world-historical father figure. Mostly, though, he's preoccupied with more literal kinds of kinship. As the novel opens, he's stuck in a loveless marriage. His Manhattan apartment building is "ugly," his teaching gig tenuous. His brother, George, meanwhile, is a high-powered TV executive with kids at fancy boarding schools and a phat manse in the burbs. More to the point, George has a temper. A car accident is about to leave him in a psych ward and throw his wife, Jane, into licentious proximity to Harry. In due course, George will escape his minders, catch Harry and Jane in bed, and bludgeon her to death with a lamp. For many writers, this would be enough plot for an entire novel, but Homes dispatches with her big twists in the first 50 pages. Jane's murder is less the central tragedy than a contrivance to transplant Harry into George's ZIP code for the rest of the book. While his brother awaits trial, he is given charge of the dog, the kids, the empty house and the safe deposit box. "It's like being indoctrinated into a secret society," he thinks. Such moments position Harry as a kind of native informant, through whom we might come to understand the folkways of the new suburban haute bourgeoisie. Rambling around George's neighborhood, he catalogs instances of parental neglect and pill-popping and how "the perfectly trimmed grass . . . reeks of prosperity and the vigilant use of pest-control products. It's midday, midweek, and apart from the fact that the plants are thriving, there are no other signs of life." This is a nice observation, nicely put. More often, though, Harry's field notes seem cribbed from old episodes of "Desperate Housewives." Look: Viagra! Swinger laser tag! Extramarital sexting! The novel fares no better when Harry turns inward. Its title comes from a Hebrew prayer of confession, and Harry periodically reproaches himself for Jane's death: "I'm as much a murderer as my brother," he laments, "no more, no less." The guilt here feels forced, though, as their affair has been so hastily sketched. And as Homes prods Harry toward redemption, his inner life remains like one of those early synthesizers that are incapable of producing a chord. "I am sobbing, wailing, crying so deep, so hard, it is the cry of a lifetime," he tells us at one point. At another: "For one shining moment I am HIGH! " A protagonist cut off from credible connection with both society and himself poses a problem: Where will the dramatic friction come from? Homes can't pull a Camus and have Harry go kill someone; George got there first. Her solution, in the book's long second act, is to launch Harry into a series of encounters with oddball neighbors and people in parking lots, and to see what shakes out. Homes is too talented for these improvisations not to generate some sparks. As episode yields to episode, Harry ends up caring not only for his niece and nephew, but also for a foster child, an elderly couple living nearby and a nympho-mistress-cum-sassy-bestie: a family of choice to replace the family of origin. Homes displays a genuine depth of feeling for the predicament of children and the elderly in a world where "Dad works all the time" and "Mom's entirely electronic." The old folks, in particular, have the surreal sweetness of "The Former First Lady and the Football Hero," Homes's fine short story about Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Still, both the plotting and the prose evince a degree of indifference toward the material. When Harry thinks, near the end of the book, "It seems pointless to go on for the sake of going on," we can almost hear the writer speaking over his shoulder. The underlying problem here is style. Homes's ambitions may have grown in the quarter-century since "The Safety of Objects" was published, but her default mode of narration remains mired in the minimalism of that era: an uninflected indicative voice that flattens everything it touches. Harry gets some upsetting news: "Two days later, the missing girl is found in a garbage bag. Dead. I vomit." Harry gets a visitor: "Bang. Bang. Bang. A heavy knocking on the door. Tessie barks. The mattress has arrived." Nor, as the latter passage illustrates, is compression anywhere evident. No event is too tedious to report, no dialogue too banal to reproduce verbatim. ("'I'll have the soup,' he tells the waitress. 'Cup or bowl?' 'Cup,' he says: And what else? 'A seltzer.'") What might have been toothsomely mock epic, a Westchester "East of Eden," reads instead like Andy Warhol's diary: so many phone calls, so many meals, so many anecdotes about pets. STYLE may be, as Truman Capote said, "the mirror of an artist's sensibility," but it is also something that develops over time, and in context. When minimalism returned to prominence in the mid-80s, its power was the power to negate. To record yuppie hypocrisies like some sleek new camera was to reveal how scandalous the mundane had become, and how mundane the scandalous. But deadpan cool has long since thinned into a manner. Its reflexive irony is now more or less the house style of late capitalism. (How awesome is that?) Or perhaps "irony" is the wrong word. Homes's insights into suburban emptiness often hew close to sarcasm instead, playing things off their opposites. But there is another, deeper irony, as old as the novel itself, that challenges us to hold competing realities in mind at the same time. And that's what "May We Be Forgiven," to make sense of our schizoid age, needs more of. Not negation, but negative capability. Not either/or, but both/and. To pair sociological sweep with psychological intimacy, as this book sets out to do, is a laudable ambition. It may even be where the vital center of American fiction is, circa 2012. But Homes hasn't yet developed the formal vocabulary to reconcile her Cheever side and her DeLillo side. Instead, they end up licensing each other's failures, canceling each other out. And so what might have been a stereoscopic view of The Way We Live Now ends as an ungainly portmanteau: a picaresque in which nothing much happens, a confession we can't quite believe, a satire whose targets are already dead. In Homes's suburbs, the perfectly clipped grass 'reeks of prosperity and the vigilant use of pest-control products.' Garth Risk Hallberg is the author of "A Field Guide to the North American Family" and a contributing editor at The Millions.

Library Journal Review

Homes (This Book Will Save Your Life) opens her new novel with two family tragedies, both involving network bigwig George Silver. George is crazy. Dangerously crazy. Kill-his-wife crazy. Altogether three children lose their parents because of George, including his two teenagers, leaving his older brother Harry to pick up the pieces. Harry has his own problems and his difficult relationship with George doesn't make things easier when he finds himself the legal guardian of his brother's children. The novel follows Harry as he learns to be a parent, friend, and all-around good guy during the year following his sister-in-law's murder. While trying to cope with the tragedies left in George's wake, Harry reaches out to other lost people and reconnects with his own family. VERDICT Although some of the situations in the novel are unbelievable and the ending a bit too tidy, the characters are well developed and credible. Grief never descends into melodrama. Recommended for readers who enjoy stories about contemporary family life. [See Prepub Alert, 4/16/12.]-Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland, St. Mary's City (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.