Monthly Archives: January 2013

May We Be Forgiven, by A.M. Homes

May We Be Forgiven, by A.M. HOmes

That May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes hits the ground hard and running from the opening pages will let you know quickly if you have the intestinal fortitude and heart to continue. The book launches immediately into the first and most visceral of a series of insanely horrible things that happen to a family in less than a year. The sequence of woe is so over the top at times that it seems like a macabre, Tarantinoesque cartoon of violence and perversity. Running parallel to the gutwrenching but – it must be said – often darkly hilarious mayhem, parts of May We Be Forgiven are also lyrically wonderful testaments to spirit, optimism, resilience and forging new family structures out of the ashes of old ones.

For professor, Nixon scholar and nebbish Harold Silver, the old family structure consisted chiefly of his childless marriage with Claire. Rapid-fire tragedy rips asunder the lives of Harry’s brother George, a prominent TV executive, George’s wife Jane and their pre-teen children Nate and Ashley. It falls to profoundly traumatized, reluctant and harried Harry to reconstitute a new and viable life for his niece and nephew. Along the way, he falls sweetly and deeply in love with the children, and learns to appreciate and respect a cast of eccentrics this newly minted family draws to itself along the way.

Homes has a love for her flawed, battered, prickly characters reminiscent of Nicola Barker (whose singular novels I’ve rhapsodized about here and here). Homes also wields bracing social commentary in a fashion reminiscent of Tom Wolfe at his best. At the same time that she’s pointedly criticizing everything from Internet sex to consumer culture to the correctional system, Homes also casts a sympathetic gaze (albeit with a gently skeptical cocked eyebrow) at caring for prematurely overly mature children and aging parents. She poignantly captures the conundrum that nowadays, we seem most “connected” with strangers, and most estranged when we’re with our ostensible loved ones:

“There is a world out there, so new, so random and disassociated that it puts us all in danger. We talk online, we ‘friend’ each other when we don’t know who we are really talking to – we fuck strangers. We mistake almost anything for a relationship, a community of sorts, and yet, when we are with our families, in our communities, we are clueless, we short-circuit and immediately dive back into the digitized version – it is easier, because we can be both our truer selves and our fantasy selves all at once, with each carrying equal weight.”

In an interview in late 2012, Homes explained with fervour what was clearly her aim in May We Be Forgiven, not to mention the riveting journey of Harry and his evolving family and sense of family:

“I want to push back against the pessimism. I can’t bear to accept that everything is basically going to shit. And everything is: the economy, the family, the social structures, the class divide, the political process in this country, global warming, random violence from terrorism. Unless you want to live in denial, I feel that you have to train yourself to find hope. The logical response is to get incredibly depressed, but what’s the point of that? Especially if you’ve got children.”(1)

May We Be Forgiven will rattle and possibly repel the more faint of heart reader. If one can ride out the rollercoaster dips in what feels like a century’s rather than a year’s worth of trauma, it’s well worth it. Even at its most horrific, May We Be Forgiven is satisfyingly redemptive as well as an irresistible read.


1. AM Homes on her new novel May We Be Forgiven
The acclaimed novelist AM Homes talks about her latest dark satire of 21st-century America
by Richard Grant, The Telegraph

See also:

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes – review
by Harvey Freedenberg in

What I read in 2012

The Yips, by Nicola Barker

Here are the books I read in 2012, with links to reviews (here on this blog or on Goodreads) where I have them. As I’ve done in previous years, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

In addition to the interesting and often challenging complement of books I enjoyed this year, 2012 was the year I committed to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as more and more friends on Twitter began to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. It’s been a truly revelatory experience. In a little over a year, I’ve pondered the works of over 260 unique poets, writers, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often surprising hashtag. I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2013, and I hope many will continue or join anew.

I also celebrated some beautifully built books, including:

That list, then …

  1. The Game
    by Ken Dryden (reread)
  2. The Money Tree
    by Sarah Stewart and David Small
  3. The Antagonist
    by Lynn Coady (reread)
  4. The Marriage Plot
    by Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. Something Fierce – Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter
    by Carmen Aguirre
  6. Expressway
    by Sina Queyras
  7. Algoma
    by Dani Couture
  8. Autobiography of Childhood
    by Sina Queyras
  9. I’m Starved For You
    by Margaret Atwood
  10. Inside of a Dog – What Dogs See, Smell and Know
    by Alexandra Horowitz (read aloud)
  11. On a Cold Road
    by Dave Bidini (reread)
  12. Believing Cedric
    by Mark Lavorato
  13. Audio Obscura
    by Lavinia Greenlaw, photographs by Julian Abrams
  14. Why Men Lie
    by Linden MacIntyre
  15. Methodist Hatchet
    by Ken Babstock
  16. The Love Monster
    by Missy Marston
  17. Detroit Disassembled
    by Andrew Moore, essay by Philip Levine
  18. The Sisters Brothers
    by Patrick DeWitt
    (guest review by Barbara McVeigh)
  19. Night Street
    by Kristel Thornell
  20. The Juliet Stories
    by Carrie Snyder
  21. Killdeer
    by Phil Hall
  22. The Blue Book
    by A.L. Kennedy
  23. Whiteout
    by George Murray
  24. The Forrests
    by Emily Perkins
  25. Seen Reading
    by Julie Wilson
  26. Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend
    by Larry Tye (read aloud)
  27. Personals
    by Ian Williams
  28. The Art of Fielding
    by Chad Harbach
  29. The Yips
    by Nicola Barker
  30. Swallow
    by Theanna Bischoff
  31. Everything, now
    by Jessica Moore
  32. A Ride in the Sun, or Gasoline Gypsy
    by Peggy Iris Thomas (read aloud)
  33. The Deleted World
    by Tomas Transtromer, versions by Robin Robertson
  34. Swimming Home
    by Deborah Levy
  35. The Essential Tom Marshall
    selected by David Helwig and Michael Ondaatje
  36. Autobiography of Red
    by Anne Carson
  37. The Little Shadows
    by Marina Endicott
  38. Inside
    by Alix Ohlin
  39. NW
    by Zadie Smith
  40. Dear Life
    by Alice Munro
  41. Copernicus Avenue
    by Andrew J. Borkowski
  42. Two Solitudes
    by Hugh MacLennan (reread)
  43. Indian Horse
    by Richard Wagamese

Currently in progress, heading into 2013:

  • The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis
  • Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, by Jesse Jarnow (read aloud)
  • The Age of Hope, by David Bergen

Looking back fondly on my 2012 reading, looking forward eagerly to my 2013 reading, I’ll simply conclude …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Book of Books, page from 2012

A Ride in the Sun, or Gasoline Gypsy, by Peggy Iris Thomas

A Ride in the Sun, or Gasoline Gypsy, by Peggy Iris Thomas

I’ve mentioned before that my husband Jason and I have combined our love of books with our love of dogs (Airedale terriers in particular) by building a library of books in which Airedales have starring or supporting roles, or at least appear in all their handsome splendour on book covers. Jason and I also, by the way, regularly enjoy sharing our books by reading aloud to each other. We combined all of these pleasures when we read together A Ride in the Sun, or Gasoline Gypsy, by Peggy Iris Thomas, earlier this year.

This book has many charms. The author recounts the myriad adventures she and her Airedale, Matelot, enjoyed as they embarked on a 14,000-mile motorcycle trek through Canada, the United States and Mexico from 1950 to 1952. As an unassuming paean to a considerably more innocent time, it’s a delight. At every hairpin turn along the way, Peggy miraculously finds a trucker who will pick up her woefully underpowered and overloaded motorcycle and transport it to the next garage. With only one or two comically villainous exceptions, those garages are staffed by resourceful mechanics willing to figure out the vagaries of her unusual model of bike and get her back on the road again – often no charge. At times fearless and self-sufficient, at times naively hapless, Peggy is always captivating, and Matelot is the epitome of canine patience and fidelity.

We relished all of these charms and they seemed to shine through most brilliantly when we were sharing the book together, reading it aloud, laughing, pausing to comment on Peggy’s misadventures, close calls and feisty spirit, and to stray into our own stories. When we paused to stumble just a bit over yet another repetition of Peggy’s stock phrases or stilted prose, the fact that we were reading it all aloud helped us to compensate, laugh it off and carry on. The few times we tried to read portions of the books to ourselves, the story fell calamitously flat, freighted under the words of someone more comfortable riding a motorcycle or training dogs than capturing any of it in sentences. And hence the glory of reading aloud to redeem great stories somewhat awkwardly told.

See also:

60th anniversary edition of A Ride in the Sun, or Gasoline Gypsy, by Peggy Iris Thomas

Benefits of reading aloud
(While there is much to be said about children reading aloud, adults reading aloud to children, and adults reading their own prose aloud to remedy problems in expression, it’s hard to find much about the joys of adults reading aloud to adults. Leave a comment on this post if you find anything, OK?)